The Hive

I'm just another dude with too much time on his hands. It really doesn't have anything to do with ants.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

INVASION USA!!

Bad news in the Hive: we're being overrun by mice.

The first sign was the total havok they had wreaked upon my large stock of rice I keep around for when I decide to drunkenly make curry every 2-3 weeks. Yeah, ruined it was. I didn't see it, but my roommate Adam assured me that, had I attempted to cook anything with it, we'd all have died of hantavirus.

Adam discovered this because his parents were coming up for the weekend, you see, and so he embarked upon a massive trailer-cleaning campaign that evidently lasted almost the entirety of Saturday while I was at work. The place looked great, but we paid a hefty price for our boastful cleanliness: it stirred up the resident mouse population something fierce.

Initial visual contact came at approximately 1:30 AM Sunday morning, when I walked out of my bathroom and saw something dart across the floor of my room. After a manful shriek or two, I collected myself enough to investigate, at which point I saw a tiny mouse poke out its head from behind a slab of wood that (for some unfathomable reason--actually the reason being that Adam's brother, who used to live here, left all kinds of junk around I haven't bothered getting rid of yet) is leaning up against the wall here. If I were a cartoon character, surely a giant "!" would have popped up over my head at that point.

But I'm a man of action, so I quickly charged it, scaring it behind my mattress. At which point it basically completely disappeared: I dragged my bed away from the wall, looked up and down for mice or mouse holes, of which there were none, then eventually lied down to do some reading. No more than 15 minutes later, I saw it dash across the other side of the room and bury itself in the interminable depths of clothing I keep neatly tossed in a heap in the closet. Realizing it was much faster and evidently smarter in the ways of hiding in small areas than I am in scouring vermin from their hidey-holes, I did the smart thing, and went to sleep, hoping the mouse and the pair of totally enormous houseflies buzzing around my room would start up a poker game, get sloshed, grievously insult each other and then slay each other in a duel, leaving me with no more to do in the morning than clean up the corpses and their tiny, tiny cigarette butts.

No such luck. I got up today, Sunday, to get down to my busy football-watching schedule, and it wasn't long before we saw a mouse scamper across the living room.

Okay, I don't know how versed everyone is in mouse behavioral patterns, but that isn't really normal. Mice don't just run around out in the open where they can be snatched up by owls or clubbed down by football-watching giants (well relative to them anyway, I'm just medium-sized). Adam remarked on this himself: he's had mice before, he says, but he's never seen them just completely flaunt their presence like this before. They like to hide out and chew holes through cereal boxes, not run circles around us as we search for suitable armament.

Basically, then, we knew these dudes were serious. The war was on.

Adam had set up a number of those sticky-traps that mice get stuck to and can't move from, but educated as I was on a strict Warner Brothers diet, I knew that, as those traps stand, they won't catch any mice except by luck. They need bait. Specifically, they need cheese, and so I hacked a piecs off a car battery-sized block of pepper jack I'd recently purchased and laid it out in one of the traps. Then we sat back for more football.

Shortly after this trap-enhancement process, I asked Adam, "Do mice even actually like cheese?"

"I really don't know," he said, glancing up from his new SSX snowboarding game.

"Okay, so we're declaring science as well as murder here," I said. "Because if mice don't actually like cheese, that's got to be like the greatest misconception on the face of the earth."

Not twenty minutes later, we'd caught a mouse. Definitive proof of the irresistable allure of cheese! Along with heinous barbarism, as Adam wrapped the mouse and its trap up in a bag, took it outside, and hit it with a blunt object I never saw, but which judging from the outrageously loud hammering noises must have been enormous, like the kind of clubs you see cavemen fighting sabretooth tigers with, or English people trying to play baseball with.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of awesome football (last-second game-winning field goal for the Seahawks) and equally awesome World Series (bottom-of-the-9th walkoff homerun by ex-Mariner Scott Podsednik), occasionally punctuated by me seeing something dart across the floor or start rustling around in the pantry and alerting Adam, who took up a BB gun and lined up a shot while I hauled furniture and debris around till a mouse would sprint out from its cave and duck into a new one too fast for either of us to even be sure what it was, let alone for him to actually be able to take a shot at it. Then we'd redistribute the traps, or spray some crack-sealing foam around a few holes in cabinets and bathroom walls, or just swear a bit and then sit down again, and wait for the next mouse to show its pointy little face.

At the end of the day, I'd say the score stands as follows:

Mice 2 (pounds of rice contamined with their wretched mouse-feces), Adam & Ed 1 (mouse captured, then smashed into mouse-goo).

It is an asymmetrical warfare, where the mice know the terrain better and can easily hide among its many wall-holes, piles of dirty laundry, and dark cabinets. But we've taken action: sealing up the cracks, laying cunning cheese-laden traps in areas of heavy mouse traffic, and placing plates over the burners on the stove, which the mice seem to have been crawling up and through to get to our food supplies. (Side note: Adam and I discussed the cruel potential of turning on all the burners when we heard a mouse skittering around in there, but eventually the remnants of our humanity carried the day, along with the fact the trailer would totally smell like incinerated mouse for a really long time.)

But it's a war we can--nay, must--win. The future of our sandwiches, our Corn Pops, and our bags of uncooked California sweet brown rice depend on it. It may take months, even years, but we must carry this fight so our children can someday live in a world free from the terror of finding mouse shit mere inches from where they lay their towheaded heads at night. Because let me tell you, that's really fucking gross.

Friday, October 21, 2005

We're gonna rock this city tonight?

So I'm standing around the store doing various menial tasks when I notice the song on the radio includes the lyrics "We're gonna rock this city tonight." In fact, it's pretty much nothing but that line, along with a few other promises as to how hard said city is going to be rocked.

I've probably heard that song 20-30 times before, but it strikes me that no one ever really "rocks" the city no matter how hard they try, right? Not just by drinking and carousing with women, anyway, which is what I'm led to believe is taking place here. Now, bombing a city would probably qualify as "rocking" it, or declaring martial law, announcing a 20% pay cut for the city PD, maybe even winning a major sporting event--now that's rocking.

But if your plan to shake the very foundations of a city includes drinking up a few bottles of its liquor supply and then vomiting them back up on the small black dresses of the city's woman supply, I believe you need to lower your expectations for just how awesome the evening is going to be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Disturbing news from the alma mater

It seems Mary-Kate Olsen has dropped out of NYU. This is especially saddening to me, as she was enrolled in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the half ludicrous/half awesome school of NYU I graduated from after a brief and unpleasant year in the boring standard School of Arts and Sciences.

For shame, Mary-Kate. Scarlett Johansson--your superior in every conceivable way--can't even get into NYU (which is, as a side note, downright bizarre; NYU has a ton of applicants and so is fairly exclusive, but it's far from being so great it should be rejecting a damn movie star), and you drop out after two semesters? As they say down in Jersey, that's just poor.

A History of Violence review

A History of Violence fucking RUUUUUUULES




Okay, here's the real one.


Viggo Mortensen’s life in A History of Violence begins as blandly unbelievable, a caricature of American values. He has a beautiful, wholesome wife in Maria Bello, two smart kids, a small business and a respected place in his Midwest community. He probably even has a copy of Oliver North's autobiography under his bed somewhere.

He also has the conviction to act decisively, and when his employees' lives are threatened by two desperate drifters, he has no qualms about killing them both.

His actions earn him a brief national spotlight, enough to make him a reluctant local hero and draw the attention of Ed Harris, a half-blind Philly mobster convinced he sees in Mortensen the young gangster who scarred his face and his eye with barb wire before disappearing into the American landscape. Here's where the film takes off: the bizarre confrontation of Mortensen's steady denial of this past and the casual malice of Harris is outstanding, producing the kind of dread that wrings your stomach in clammy hands before bursting into inevitable violence.

A History of Violence is a top-notch thriller that plays on Mortensen's excellently humble performance, but the disturbing directorial choices of David Cronenberg push it into something greater. The violence is there, along with the honest moral satisfaction of a man defending himself and his family, but Cronenberg lingers on the physical realities of that violence--the pulverized noses, the blackened bullet wounds and slowly pooling blood--until you can't help but feel queasy for supporting Mortensen's fight.

His family suffers, too; his son Ashton Holmes is suspended for fighting, and as Mortensen shifts between the man he is and the man he was, wife Bello wavers between disgust and support. When a brawl between Bello and Mortensen abruptly swaps gears to frighteningly angry sex, it's impossible to untangle the emotions of the pair. The emotions of the audience, doubtlessly, are equally confused.

A History of Violence is tightly plotted and superbly acted. It's the subtle horror of Cronenberg's direction, however, that emerges as its ultimate payoff.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Oh my god I got stiff-armed!

That's right, I was pretty drunk, but I was hopping around Valhallas down in Pullman, and when I made a fairly innocuous "do you want to dance" move towards this tall blonde girl, who wasn't even extremely hot or whatnot, just a girl who was there, she literally planted a palm in my face and pushed me back!

About half an hour later in the car I thought it would be pretty funny if I'd punched her in the face instead of just knocking her stupid arm away, but in retrospect, it probably wouldn't have been that funny to get the hell beat out of me by a bouncer. Also I'd probably feel kind of bad later for punching a girl in the middle of a dance floor on 80's Night, even if she was being a fucking swine.

I'll have my revenge, though. I'll write about it in a book some day! Then what will she do.

She'll cry, that's what. And I'll be all, "Well, you shouldn't have stiff-armed me, you crazy idiot." That will make all the self-doubting mulling-over of this I'm bound to do all worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Semi-drunken Lord of War review

I intend to brush this up when I have a more sober perspective tomorrow, but I think this is a decent condensation of how I thought about the movie. I was shooting for 350 words, which is so fucking few it's ridiculous, but ended up with 426, which should be okay.

Anyway, it's gonna need a modest revision, but I did rewrite a lot of it as I was going tonight. Should be enough for an initial look.



I watched the opening sequence of Lord of War--which follows a bullet from its manufacture in the U.S., to its sale to a foreign military, to its sale to an African para-military group, and, ultimately, to its final resting place embedded in the forehead of a boyhood African soldier--and was glad it was just me and my buddy in the theater, because my shouted response was not appropriate for mixed company.

It's rare a movie directly tackles political issues, and Nicolas Cage, as a first-generation Ukrainian in the Soviet neighborhood of Brighton Beach, NYC, has no interest in such matters himself: starting with sales of Uzis to Russian thugs or Russian guns to the Afghani militants they’re fighting, he doesn't care who he sells to or their cause, he just cares about the money.

As he moves from small-potatoes South American deals with his brother and increasingly substance-addicted partner Jared Leto to the vast markets of post-Cold War sales, his justifications for his place remain coldly economical. He sells guns, tanks, helicopters, but he doesn’t decide how they're used; if it weren't him, he says, it would just be someone else.

Cage's understated but powerful narration of a man following an ambitious but violent American dream sprints through his early years in scenes equally hilarious and shocking, and his rise to power, including the departure of the rehab-bound Leto, Cage's dupe of neighborhood model Bridget Moynahan into marriage, and his dangerously intimate partnership with African warlord Eamonn Walker, are breezy and natural. Interpol's Ethan Hawke hunts Cage for decades, but with Cage operating firmly in the gray area between legality and outright criminality, there's little to prosecute.

Lord of War begins to drag in the domestic segment of the final third--perhaps in part because of the breathlessly funny amorality of the first 80 minutes--but if it lags, it's only due to the darkly breakneck pace created by an opportunist who wants to make money no matter the cost in ethics or lives. We're rarely granted a glimpse at the humans that surround Cage, and at times the collapse of his relationships with his family seems distant, the drama out of place, unimportant beside the impact of his daily business.

If the heavy drama falls short, however, it's only in relation to a movie that is bracingly direct. Cage's death-dealer is as sympathetic as disquieting, and it's up to us to determine whether the gray evils of the arms trade are his to bear or the burden of the nations that supply them.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Two times I've been inadvertently insulted

Was just thinking about this today. It's probably happened more than twice, but these are two I remember clearly:

The second time was fairly recently here at work. I got this next day air letter that had an unorthodox label, so I took care of it best I could and waited to go over it with my boss, Jim, the next day. Turned out we needed a new label, so as I was explaining that to Jim, he took a look at the letter and noticed it'd been taped on instead of attached via these plastic pouches we're supposed to use.

"Huh, and those boneheads taped it on," he said, in the mild but harmless disgruntlement he often shows for minor slip-ups like that.

"Uhh.. actually, I did that," I said. At which point he taught me the magical convenience of the carrier pouch.

First time was about a year and a half ago when I was in talking with a writing professor named Wetta about my second book. I'd been working with him since starting my first novel another year and a half before that, and we'd had an independent study of some sort for a couple semesters at that point, but we weren't exactly buddy-buddy or anything--he was a funny guy, a lot like me in a lot of ways, both in physical appearance (both about 5' 8", thin, both wore leather jackets and fedoras, a weird coincidence that was obvious from the first day of his fiction class) and in temperament in that we kind of kept to ourselves and had a general low-key disregard for most everything, be it university-related, politics, or much contemporary writing. In fact, our tastes in fiction were remarkably similar: he got me into Faulkner, was surprised to learn he wasn't the one who recommended John Fante to me when I brought him up one day (Fante being a fairly obscure early 20th century LA dude), and had an endless supply of bizarre but unfailingly hilarious eastern European authors I started reading obsessively.

Anyway, point is, me and Wetta were sort of close and had seen each other semi-weekly for approaching three years, but there was a distance about us both that prevented us from ever truly becoming friends, like the way I was with my advisor, Nettie, a 60-year-old writing prof who took me to my first American bar when I was still 20. We'd swear around each other, and occasionally talk shit about university practices and other such things in a way you don't with a prof you know purely professionally, but that didn't prevent a strange aloofness from popping up between us now and then.

Like the first time I was inadventently insulted.

We were sitting around talking politics--he was more right-wing than I liked, but we both held a lot of contempt for our own sides, so it was easy fo find common ground. I think we were talking about the Iraq war, and specifically the protestors of it, when the topic turned to Unitarians.

"Bunch of damn happy do-gooders," Wetta said, smiling with half his mouth, speaking in that light Virginia accent that always sounds so great when it's condemning people. "All out to save the world. Why don't they just shut up."

"I was raised Unitarian," I said, blank-faced. It was true, but I hadn't been religious since I was about 8 and I happened to agree with him; I just said it to mess with him a little, stir up some trouble for the hell of it.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" he said, leaning forward with a palm out, face all stretched out in surprise but already laughing. That's what kind of guy he was--he'd unknowingly insult your childhood and roots one moment, then laugh about it when he found out the next, even though he was sorry. Sitting around BSing with him was one of the things I miss most about college, even if he hasn't yet shown my novel to his agent, the old bastard.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lord of War thoughts

Saw Lord of War with Ken tonight, in part because one of the UPS store regulars is taking my contact info in to the local editor soon and because it was one of the few movies playing I had any interest in seeing/reviewing. It's been years since I went into a movie knowing nothing about it other than the previews--movies were too expensive in NY to go to without a screening process of reading a few reviews and deciding that it at least had the potential to be good, and besides, I don't really go to the movies just to go to the movies--so I'd been led to believe, by the previews, I was looking forward to a dumb action flick.

Dumb action flicks can be great, of course, and the excitement of booms and shooting stuff is often better than your average non-violent movie, so it's not like I was going in thinking "Booooring" or anything. I just wasn't expecting to have to think too hard about it.

Lord of War, though. Not really an action flick. Not really at all.

Didn't take long to realize that, either. The movie's about an arms dealer (which was pretty much the only hard fact I knew about it to that point), and the opening sequence follows a camera mounted on a bullet as its brass is stamped out in a factory, loaded up with gunpowder and clapped with a tip, shipped off to some military organization that appeared to be Russian but could really be anywhere, sold to an anonymous African country, spilled out into the dry dry dust, loaded up into a soldier's AK, then, finally, fired straight into the forehead of a gun-wielding African boy.

Ken and I were the only ones in the theater, and as soon as the entry wound punched into the kid's head, I sat up and said "That was fucking awesome."

Because it was. You don't see that shit in movies--specifically arms sold from America to international conflicts, but more eyebrow-raisingly, you don't see kids getting shot. You just don't. It's like, not kosher.

The first third or so follows Nicolas Cage moving from a first-generation Ukrainian-American looking forward to a long and definitely not fruitful life at the family's restaurant in Brighton Beach to selling uzis to local Russian thugs and, not long after, guns of wide variety (but particularly Kalashnikovs) to buyers throughout the world. He starts small-time and works his way up in fairly standard "fight-your-way-to-the-top" progression, but his rise is punctuated by such dark, cutting humor involving who's selling the guns, who's buying them, and how they're being used that it never lags. It had me captivated, actually. I had no idea how they were going to keep it up through a whole movie, and said as much to Ken after it'd been sprinting through that first 30-40 minutes, but up till then, that movie fucking ruled.

And, predictibly enough, it couldn't keep it up. It started to slow as Cage got married (though the courting process itself was pretty damn good), and even staggered a bit as the ethics of his trade--a trade which he justifies through any number of capitalist arguments, sometimes convincing, sometimes approaching nauseating--begins to wear on his family. His wife, his kid, his parents, and his brother all end up alienated and hurt by the way he's made his millions, and while I do like the exploration of how amoral capitalism can hurt everyone involved, there's just something wrong with it in this movie. It's kind of flat.

I'm not even sure exactly what it is--maybe the characters aren't developed quite far enough to really care about them, or maybe it's weird to see it getting so heavily dramatic after the basically commentless depiction of all this crazy shit that ends up working as devastating satire and commentary, or maybe it's just that the first part was so good and the second part wasn't. It still had its moments, and it wasn't like it was bad by any stretch, it just dropped off. It started slogging around in pedestrian familial stuff that could have come as a result of any kind of problem, be it adultery or addiction or whatever else, and kind of left off from the really out-there arms smuggling it had drawn us into so deep.

So I dunno. I really, really liked some parts of it, and thought its ambitions were totally out of control--basically a critique of all arms-dealing nations, and the excesses of capitalism, and then also a heavy family drama, and also it's just fucking funny. But it can't handle all the threads it's trying to weave, and to see them unravel after the absurdly good setup it had going, well, it's a little disappointing in that way where you pump your first and say "Come on!" and you're mad because you want it to just take that last step towards greatness, and it can't.

Also it had Karim Said from Oz. And Ethan Hawke, who I really like.

What it comes down to, then, is this was a really interesting movie, one I wish I could watch another time or two before reviewing it. Cause it's gonna be a serious bitch to try to condense all those things and give a good rundown of the plot in 350 words.

I'll see what I can do after another day or two to ruminate on it. If nothing else, it's got great potential to be a knockout review--or at worst something that comes close. Which, considering the movie in question, is nothing but appropriate.