Thursday, August 23, 2007

Once you graduate, where do you get advice?

Here is a question: Now that I've finished graduate school, where do I go for advice on my student loans? I am disinclined to tap my school's financial aid department as they haven't been much help in the past. I'm not sure I can trust my lender to give me unbiased advice and my bank's loan people aren't set up to make student loans, let alone give informed opinions about them. What have you done? Who would you talk to?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Joe Has The Best Idea Ever

In the comments for my August 14 post Joe suggested a hilarious scenario, one that I hope we witness in our lifetimes. In the form of a sitcom. I want a sitcom world in which McDonald's (or similar) enacts the BMI rule. It would be just one season. Maybe two, but you'd have to have a full story arc from the beginning.

Episode One: Characters are introduced, scene is set.
1) McDonald's-loving congressman. He has a fat wife/daughter/son/whatever and writes the bill that requires fast food establishments to measure BMI before selling customers food.
2) Congressman's chief of staff. He has to run interference between the congressman and the loved one. He also has to sneak the congressman fast food, which means he spends a lot of time working out. He is a foil. And a tool.
3) Congressman's wife/daughter/son/whatever. Fat, angry, frequently tries to bribe the chief of staff.
4) Fast food executive who has to deal with the legislation.
5) Fast food executive's nutrition/training expert/consultant who has to "synergize" the new requirements and "actionize" their implementation.
6) Beleaguered fast food restaurant manager. The only person to see that this is total insanity and that it's never going to work.
7) Motley crew of fast food employees.
7a) Pimply faced teenage boy.
7b) Greasy ex-con/-vet (depending on whether the show is on Fox or ABC).
7c) Goth girl teenager.
7d) Preppy but poor girl teenager from the NASCAR Ghetto who is all about "makin' it to Corporate!"
7e-g) Several Hispanics of indeterminate age who only speak "fast food English." They also see that the new legislation is never going to work, but no one listens to them because all Americans are racist. (Subtle, huh?) Oh, also, they are always in a group. And I can't decide if it's funnier if they're subtitled or not. I say not and reward all of the kids who took/take high school Spanish.
8) Assorted regular customers.
9) Assorted random, one-off customers.

Episode Two: The Employees Go To Training.
Hilarity ensues when the employees have to duck out one or two at a time for training in using the new "BMI Customer Machine." The expert/consultant informs them that it stands for "Because McDonald's Invests in its Customers. Pimply Face says, "Wouldn't that be BMIIIC?" ::laugh track::

Episode Three: Congressman realizes he's too fat to get a Big Mac. Hilarity ensues!

Episode Four: The Machine breaks, but the only people who notice are the Hispanics and no one can understand them. By the second half of the show they have gotten a repair person out (a sassy lady in a jumpsuit with indie glasses, a red rag in her back pocket and a black pony-tail pulled through her hat!) and... um... hilarity ensues.

Episode Five: The Congressman's wife/kid/whatever gets a job. At the McDonald's! Will his/her obesity turn people off their food? What if a customer asks him/her something like, "So, what are you allowed to have?" Hahaha! Making fun of people whose lives are at serious risk for a whole slew of terrible diseases and conditions! Hahaha!

Then there's the rest of the season where, you know, hilarity ensues, except for one or two touching moments. (Preppy Girl finds out that "Hispanics are real people too!" And then she realizes that she still doesn't know their names! Haha!)

Final Episode: The attorney general or supreme court or whatever declares the law unconstitutional. The expert/consultant goes on to a new project (it's a reality tv show: what happens when you put ten people together in a three bed/one bath on a deserted island... and they all happen to be ethnic Maylays who are obsessed with Prince?!). The congressman's wife/son/daughter/whatever loses a butt-ton of weight on a local version of Celebrity Biggest Loser. (WOOOooooOOOOO!) And the congressman has a heart attack. Because of all the McDonald's he ate. And he dies. The final scene is his funeral. And his skinny wife/son/daughter/whatever is there gnawing on a chicken leg. His chief of staff gives a disapproving look, to which s/he replies: "What?! I'm on Atkins!" Hahahahaha!

This has all been extremely stream of conscious. Which is about how well thought out I think most sitcoms are. But I think this would be an awesome concept. The trick is to limit it to a single season (maybe - MAYBE - two) so that you don't end up with any weddings at the McDonald's or crap like that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just ignore constitutionality for a minute...

...and consider the following (possibly retarded) thought.

What if McDonald's determined what you could order at their restaurants based on BMI. My brother could have whatever he wants; Pete and I could have salads, chicken or parfaits; the morbidly obese could have salads and diet coke.

McDonald's is trying to sell itself as healthful with their new commercials showing fresh foods never before seen in an actual McDonald's restaurant. They haven't changed their products, they just want you to think they have. But what if they were honest about it and decided to actually influence their patrons' health. Then all the young, thin, beautiful people eating burgers would be truth in advertising. Although they'd have to tape new ads of happy fat people eating their dressingless salads and sipping their Super Sized waters. That would be kind of awesome.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Anxiety! TV! Eehugh...

I have the anxieties. Sometimes, at night, when I am tired, I become particularly susceptible to being overly (and inappropriately) empathetic. Were you to walk in on my watching TV, and were I to not notice you, you would be able to watch my face mimic the expressions of the characters on the screen, moment to moment. I am like a mirror when I'm tired. Or a big dumb monkey. Whichever you prefer. But sometimes, when a show is quite good or I like the characters quite a lot, I am left with their emotional detritus long after the show is over. So tonight I am filled with anxieties about someone killing me and needing to throttle a friend because I watched "Weeds" when I was really too tired to be watching that show.

Here are some other shows that are super good: The Closer, Burn Notice, Psych. Yes, I watch a lot of TV on channels in the 50s (at least here in Portland). The Closer (on TNT) is really good; it's very clever and the characters are interesting and likable. Burn Notice is surprising. I guess I didn't give USA enough credit (as I am SO sick of Monk). Every so many episodes he just caps/blows up a guy. Because he's an ex-spy and you shouldn't fuck with him. Psych (also on USA) is a great comedy. The show is totally aware of how improbable its premise is and it embraces it. I really appreciate that in TV. Of course nothing on TV right now is quite as funny as 30 Rock. If you haven't seen that show at all, it is totally worth the half hour of your Thursday evening that it requires. If you have seen a couple episodes but haven't seen the ones with Isabella Rossellini, you need to watch them now. Highlights include her pulling down Tina Fay's top in one episode, and saying, with complete sincerity, "Damnit, Jack; you know how I love my big beef and cheddar," in another.

Maybe I'll see if I can find an episode of 30 Rock on the intertubes so that I can assuage my anxieties with the sweet balm of giggle fits.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Recipe for deliciousness!

I had a breakthrough tonight! Today I am a lady who can once again eat certain cooked fruits! Last week, in a moment of weakness, I ate a slice of a delicious peach my mother was having for a snack. It was so so delicious (the first bite of peach I've had in maybe four years) and worth all the minor mouth itching. But that was just it: the itching was minor! There were no welts. I was welt-free! So I thought to myself: hey, maybe I can eat cooked peaches like a normal person with birch pollen-related cross-allergies (like myself). And that's what I did tonight. I ate half a cooked peach and I did not itch, welt, swell or die. I just enjoyed a piece of fruit more than I have ever enjoyed a food stuff before. So here is the recipe.

Sydney's Four-Year Baked Peaches
(serves 4)

2 peaches, halved and pitted
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place peaches center-side up in a 13" x 9" glass baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. (I didn't fully cover them; just a splattered them. But if you like a lot of cinnamon, go nuts!) Sprinkle each one with just a couple grains of nutmeg: it is powerful stuff. Set aside.

NOTE: you could peel the peaches if you wanted to. If they have particularly thick skin, you may want to consider doing so. You also may want to slice a little off the back of each half so that they don't roll around in the baking dish.

3. Mix water, honey, sugar and vanilla in a small sauce pan. Cook over medium/medium-low heat until the sugar is melted and the mixture has thickened.

4. Spoon mixture over each peach, making sure to cover each face completely. It will pool in the centers and that is cool. Don't worry about overflow or washing away cinnamon. Just pour it all until your pan is empty.

5. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, or until the peaches are tender. But be careful, don't cook them to mush or they will not be as delicious!

6. Remove from oven and place in bowls. Serve with vanilla ice cream or marscapone cheese.

NOTE: I suggest mixing making the marscapone a little more interesting, like so:
For each person...
1/4 c. marscapone
1 tsp-1 tbsp sugar (depending on how sweet they like it), or 1 packet of splenda/equal
1-2 drops almond extract

Eat, enjoy, and think of me: the girl who can't eat delicious peaches (except sometimes when cooked) because her stupid body thinks they're birch pollen.

Calling on Portlanders who love root beer!

Are you a friend of mine who loves root beer? Are you in Portland? Pete -webtron gadfly- has made some delicious root beer cupcakes. He saw the recipe on Boing Boing and when he saw how much root beer schnapps it used, he was sold. So now we have 20 or so root beer cupcakes that we can't eat because we drank so much damn Henry's Delicious Amazing And Perfect Root Beer last night, we're sick of the stuff. So if you like delicious cupcakes and root beer, give us a call: there's one with your name on it!

Addendum: Why We Own Root Beer Schnapps
Yes, it's as disgusting as it sounds (not in baked goods, but in anything else). No, we did not buy it because that sounded "awesome." My brother and a coworker of his were comparing mixed drink recipes (or maybe just weird crap they'd mixed together and drunk; I forget how they got on this topic) and his coworker suggested a Root Beer Float: vanilla vodka, root beer schnapps and cream/half & half. Aren thought this sounded awesome (or at least interesting) and so procured the necessary liquors. The verdict? I didn't have one as it smelled like pure, vile alcohol, but Aren said that it tasted like liquor with an aftertaste of flat root beer. Yum. Turns out this was just a hypothetical drink and his coworker had never tried it before. So we were left with most of a bottle of root beer schnapps and the knowledge that no one would ever drink it. To our surprise, a couple jacks and jiggers have been siphoned off at various times in the name of curiosity. I think Stormy had a jigger over ice, but that kid is both brave and adventurous. After the cupcake caper, we only have about a quarter of the bottle left. So if you are a friend of mine or Pete's, you are in Portland and you want to try some root beer schnapps: come on down! We have at least a jigger with your name on it!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Am I in the southern hemisphere?

The date: August 11. The time: 11:30pm. The place: Portland, OR. The temperature: 59 fawking degrees! I'm not kidding: I'm wearing a hoodie, jeans and tennis shoes, and we haven't taken the comforter off the bed more than three times this summer. Or whatever you call this season. Maybe "The Sunny Season" to differentiate it from the prior "Gray And A Little Rainy But Fresh Season." After "The Sunny Season" comes the "Gray And A Little Rainy But Everything Dies Season." And then finally the "Cold And Gray Season."

I shouldn't complain. I hate heat and humidity. This is just shocking, that's all. And that's all I have to say on that for two reason: 1) There is a spider on the ceiling and I must get Pete to do something about it; 2) The overhead light is flickering irritatingly (and suddenly!) and it's quite maddening.

Oh, but before I go: I went to the Portland IKEA yesterday and today. It is really weird to go into a place I associate with Europe and the east coast and see it filled with local yokels. Not to put too fine (or judgmental) a point on it, but that place was just loaded with morbidly obese Oregonians today. It was depressing. Like a Future Stroke And Diabetes parade. If I were ever going to hand out nutrition information leaflets, I think I would start at IKEA. Not that I'm the picture of health or anything myself; my BMI sets me comfortably in the Overweight range and if I get any more sedentary I think I might qualify as a pet rock. BUT... it was bad. It made me worry about Oregon and the health of her citizens. How is it possible that we're so fat as a state when we're living in one of the greatest places on earth for sport (where it's 59 degrees at night in the goddamned summer!)?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Trying To Care About Baseball

Pete told me about a very interesting point John Lovitz made about the whole Bonds/Aaron/Doping thing. He said that Lovitz said that a friend of his in the MLB said years ago that there were thousands of players doping. The quote, as Pete recounted it, was "If I knew, how could the commissioner not know?" On the other hand, he continued, if thousands of guys are doping, why aren't they all hitting home runs like Bonds?

I'm trying to care about this, but it's not easy. It seems like there's a principle here and that maybe it's related to something bigger and more important, something about lax morals in our modern age or what have you. I don't know much about Hank Aaron as a person, but he's always seemed like a nice guy. I think the difference is in what it meant for Aaron to break and then hold the record versus what it means for Bonds to do so. When Hank Aaron neared Babe Ruth's record, he received death threats, yet he was voted into the Hall of Fame with like 98% of the vote (or however the Baseball Hall of Fame works). The man played in a segregated league on a team called the Clowns, for crying out loud! Barry Bonds' record, on the other hand, does not represent a major step in the battle against racism. It's my understanding that there's some question as to whether or not he'll even be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he certainly won't receive 98% of the vote. And I have no sense that he represents what's best about baseball, the way Hank Aaron continues to do today. On the other hand, no one is willing to take Bonds to task over the steroid accusations, I assume either over lack of evidence or lack of will to really carry out the witch hunt that would instigate. The question of his Hall of Fame eligibility is certainly less clear than Pete Rose betting on baseball. And maybe Bonds does represent a milestone in the civil rights movement: a record-approacher whose death threats have nothing to do with his race but rather with his supposed drug use.

The thing is: baseball is boring. ..::B O R I N G::.. It takes forever, the stats are arcane, you can't understand what in the hell the announcers are talking about, and the players don't seem to have any of the joie de jouer that earlier players had (or that you see all the time in basketball and even pretty often in football). It might as well be test cricket for all the interest it holds for me. And I think other people can feel that too, the ennui that makes it seem strange to see the excitement and pageantry at Japanese baseball games. I mean, it's our national pastime, right? Then why are our stands half-empty and morose when the Japanese stands are full and almost riotous? Watching Tony Bourdain at a Hanshin Tigers game on "No Reservations" made me think, "hey, maybe baseball games could be fun." But then I remembered what going to an actual game is like (Mariners, Father's Day, 1991 maybe?) and wondered why I couldn't remember taking the Crazy Pills whose effects I was so clearly feeling.

So I don't really care, is what it comes down to. Bonds' victory is ambiguous. Maybe he's the best slugger out of all the dopers, but that would still make him a doper. He's no Hank Aaron, but he's not really a Pete Rose either. One could argue that he rather nicely represents the state of baseball today.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ian McEwan Writes The Books I Wish I Wrote

I just finished On Chesil Beach and it is really beautiful. I wrote a review on Facebook and I'm too lazy to copy it here. But there is something I left out of the review because it was without context. A couple months ago when I read The Historian I complained that no one can write a decent sex scene. They're usually awkward, embarrassing and definitely not sexy. Mostly I feel like they miss the whole point of sex, focusing on the erotic as though it is mutually exclusive from love or kindness or friendship. Now that I put that in words, it seems really clich├ęd, which isn't how I meant it at all. It is just to say that most sex scenes in books seem to be detached from the overall narrative, these intense moments of passion, gratification and sometimes joy, when in reality sex is (in my opinion) rarely all that separate from one's general narrative. But maybe I'm missing the point. I'll grant that could be the case. Ian McEwan, though, never misses the point. On Chesil Beach contains the most beautifully written sex scene I have ever read. And it's awkward virgin sex! The whole scene is built up to as part of the character construction as the plot centers around the wedding night of the two protagonists, Edward and Florence. The sex (which is rather graphically detailed - on a scale from "Pride & Prejudice" to "The Mammoth Hunters," it rates above a "Lady Chatterley's Lover" but maybe just below a "Mists of Avalon" because he doesn't euphemise) is never removed from the context of the characters' relationship. Florence is disgusted by the whole idea of physical intimacy, but is horrified at the idea that she might disappoint this man she loves so dearly. Edward has mistaken her fear and revulsion for coyness and is looking forward to finally consummating the relationship, which has him worried about poor performance. McEwan weaves all of their respective anxieties into the narrative of the experience. And although it is a cringingly awkward and shameful experience for the protagonists (as the loss of virginity is for any member of any rather closed society, as postwar England is painted in this novel), it was somehow still beautiful to read.

I finished this book yesterday and I feel lighter and somehow happier today for having read it. It's short - less than 200 pages, I think - and didn't take long to read. But it made me re-evaluate why we fall in love and when and how it happens. At some point in the book Edward realizes that though he is already in love with Florence, he feels a wave of additional fondness wash over him and realizes that the joy of truly loving someone isn't something that sits with you always at the same level, but is rather something that comes in waves. The message I took away from it is that one can fall in love with the same person again and again without ever falling out of love with them. And I think that's true (I know it's true for me). So read this book! Or anything by Ian McEwan, really. But if you're looking for something short and brilliant and beautiful, pick this one.