Week 24: Alexandria

Locations: Alexandria, VA


Dates: 1/26/97-2/1/97

Sunday I backslid: I read Usenet news for the first time in probably 9 months. Just one newsgroup (rec.puzzles, in preparation for posting about the Words & Stuff column there), but still. Unfortunately, the only newsreader I could get to make a proper connection was the one built into Netscape 2.0, which doesn't have a terribly good interface. I spent twenty minutes downloading the complete newsgroups list for Yet Another NewsWatcher, then couldn't get the program to fetch articles; then did the same with Nuntius, another Mac newsreader. No dice. Sigh.

I also finished reading the latest SWAPA, which means I'm finally all caught up—I've read the last seven (monthly) issues in the past three weeks. Whew.

Monday I finished a task I'd started on Saturday: updating my address-book file. I keep a word-processor file of the whole thing, and then print it on roughly 4x7" pages to go in my DayRunner. The plan was that I would update individual pages and re-print them every few months; in practice I'd updated half the alphabet six or eight months ago, then never finished the rest. I had handwritten changes of address on the printed pages, crossing out old ones; a couple of people had been through three moves since I last printed the pages. Good to finally have that done. My printer won't handle pages that small, so I had to print on full-size paper and cut it and hole-punch it by hand, a somewhat daunting task...

That evening I did a revision of a story I'd been planning to revise for, oh, six or eight years now. Now all it needs is some sensory detail and some fact-checking.

Also called my grandmother on the occasion of her 89th birthday.

At some point, Barbara called the post office and had them re-start mail delivery, which resulted in a uniformed postal employee bringing a bin full of mail to the front door (I was a bit embarrassed to be wandering about in my bathrobe at 2 in the afternoon). Among other items that arrived in my forwarded mail was a note from the California DMV, saying I could renew my license by mail. I hate the picture on my current license and I'm loath to have to keep it another four years; on the other hand, it sure is convenient. Don't even have to be in CA to do it; they'll mail me a new license. Cool!

Tuesday, driven by the growing mildew smell in the downstairs room where I'm staying, I finally stopped at a nearby equipment-rental place and rented a carpet fan. (The guy who ran the place told me that he knew several guys named "Jedediah," all of them African-American. I hadn't realized it was a common name in that community. Interesting.) I ran the fan all afternoon and evening, blowing air under the carpet and the pad, to try to dry out the last of the invading water. Worked pretty well. And (knock on wood) my car seems to be working fine too; the only time I had trouble starting it after the repairs, the weather was very cold, and the car did start eventually anyway.

I talked with Barbara on the phone briefly on Wednesday and she said it would be fine for me to leave my things (and my car) at her place for a couple weeks while I visit CA.

Was glancing through my Web access log and noticed that Thursday traffic is significantly higher, every week, than any other day. Wonder why that is? I wouldn't have expected Thursday to be a particularly big Web day...

On Wednesday and Thursday I straightened the place up a little (I'd been keeping it pretty clean, but figured I should reduce clutter somewhat), watched movies, worked on a story, mailed various items (and got much-needed stamps), and took another trip in to Old Town to pick up a book I'd requested at Olsson's last week. Oh, and returned the rented fan.

Also realized that the upcoming Words & Stuff column was boring, so I trashed it and started a new one on a different topic.

Late Thursday afternoon Barbara arrived; we introduced ourselves (hadn't previously met in person), talked a little, then she headed out to various meetings. I spent the rest of the evening and most of Friday doing stuff on my computer: getting rid of things I never use (anyone want a legal copy of Publish It Easy?), learning how to use various HTML authoring tools and utilities, and so on. My copy of Netscape 2.0 had suddenly self-destructed on Wednesday, so I tried Thursday night (and again Friday night) to download 3.01; but of course my connection died most of the way through the hour-long download. It would be so nice to have a reliable, fast Net connection...

Friday morning my watch wouldn't start. By which I mean it suddenly wouldn't wind at all. I took it to a nearby jeweler that afternoon; he said it needed to be cleaned, very dusty inside. (Probably true, as it's been a year since it was last cleaned and old mechanical watches seem to collect dust, but I suspect that's irrelevant to the problem I was having...) While I was in the neighborhood, decided to get a haircut. The haircut guy (barber? ...what's the feminine form of "barber," anyway? "barbress"?) asked if I wanted my beard trimmed while I was there; I said sure, why not. He did a decent job, but nothing I couldn't have done with my trimmer at home. Still, I'd always wondered what it was like to have a professional trim one's beard, so it was worth trying. Right at the end, he used a straight razor to even things out on the back of my neck; the first time I've seen that done. Straight razors scare me—I always think of Sweeney Todd when I see one—but this was over almost before I realized what was happening.

(In retrospect, I'm not even entirely sure it was a straight razor. But definitely a razor of some kind (which I've never before experienced at a barber shop), and it felt longer and somehow different from a safety razor.)

Friday evening had dinner with Barbara; we talked for a couple hours, me uncomfortable as always trying to converse with someone I don't know well, then dealt with email and did various other computer things. Also finally managed to submit an entry for Words & Stuff to Yahoo; I expect in about two weeks I'll suddenly get a peak in the number of hits to that page.

Saturday I lazed about. Barbara took me to a nearby used-book store, which contained more romance paperbacks than I knew existed, as well as a smallish selection of every other genre of genre fiction. I picked up a couple of Hammett novels, and The Worm Ourobouros, and Stand on Zanzibar. Just what I need, more books. I'm still slowly slogging through Always Coming Home, but I expect it to take at least another week to finish.

Finally made firm travel plans. Turns out my special discount coupons for cheap tickets on America West are basically useless to me: they give a $360 fare cross-country, but only on flights leaving at 6:45 am. Considering that every other major airline is offering $390 fares leaving any time of day, I decided to skip the America West deal. Besides, I never liked that airline much anyway; I only fly 'em when they offer a particularly cheap cross-country flight.

Anyway, I'll be flying to San Jose on the 15th, flying back on March 4. Will attend the VRML '97 conference in Monterey during that time; otherwise have no firm plans for what to do while there. Hope to see lots of Bay Areans.

Saturday evening had dinner with Barbara again (this time I actually did something to help prepare it, which made me feel better about eating it); we ended up talking for about six hours, keeping her up well past her bedtime. A lot of conversation about family histories and such. She offered to drive me around The District (as they call DC around here) on Sunday to give me a better feel for how things are laid out.

Movies, Books, etc.

Pret-a-Porter (Ready to Wear)
I'm still stunned with Altman's ability to comprehensibly present twenty major characters in complexly intertwingled stories, but this film was marred (for me) by several characters looking too much like each other, by my lack of interest in (and knowledge about) the fashion world, and by a couple of the substories not having satisfying payoffs or conclusions. So it's no Short Cuts or The Player, but pretty good anyway.
Do the Right Thing
I went in expecting an angry young Spike Lee full of fire, and was disarmed by a gentle, evenhanded, philosophical comedy; I loved the characters' names/nicknames and I was utterly charmed by the subplot involving The Mayor and Mother Sister. But once I'd been led down that garden path by the first three-fourths of the film, the ending infuriated me, especially since I felt that Lee was blaming the wrong people. (Note: Unintentionally my second Danny Aiello movie this week.)
The Paper Chase
Lots of nice moments, some good writing and acting, some very funny bits, and Timothy Bottoms is way cute if you like that '70s look. But I was annoyed by the film's initial treatment of Lindsay Wagner (whose first several scenes consist of her gazing doe-eyed at Bottoms as he babbles journal entries about his life), and I didn't have a lot of sympathy for most of the characters, and I felt the ending wasn't justified by what led up to it.
Cutthroat Island
Not as lousy as I was led to believe: some superb characters, some great lines, few if any lapses of genre, and Geena Davis is fabulous as an action heroine. Still, it was missing a certain spark; it committed the cardinal adventure-movie sin of being kinda boring, and much as I like Matthew Modine, he's no Errol Flynn (and neither, alas, is Davis, though she comes close).
The best magic-realism effects I've yet seen, but the movie is (as I suppose is part of the genre) extremely slow and inconclusive. Marquez' work just doesn't translate to film terribly well, I'm afraid, though this was as good a try as one could hope for.
I was annoyed at the start—I don't really care much about young preppy characters in general, and these were particularly naive ones (I thought they must be in high school at first)—but then I remembered being told that it was a loosely adapted Jane Austen story (which may not actually be the case), and began to feel much more at home with the characters (which is indicative, I admit, of a certain reverse snobbery on my part). Several funny bits, some good acting from various newcomers, but still felt a little on the slight side; I'd hoped for more meat to the story.
Two Much
The only redeeming features of this unromantic non-comedy are Joan Cusack (as Banderas' secretary) and Eli Wallach (as his father). Otherwise, it reminds me of a bad attempt at a Fawlty Towers episode, and Banderas (alas) just isn't very good at physical comedy. (Note: Unintentionally my third Danny Aiello movie this week.)
Six Degrees of Separation
Quite a bit better than I expected; Will Smith and Stockard Channing are superb. A few parts sound a little like written words rather than spoken dialogue, but even there the words are poetic, not stilted.

(Last updated: 3 February 1997.)

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