Sunday, September 27, 2015

Philly Phail

For a good long time now, we have known that the Pope was coming to Philadelphia. Over the last few months, we have been told to expect hordes of people, to stock up on food, to expect to sit in traffic for hours, to treat this visit like an epic snowstorm, or like ten Super Bowls that are happening concurrently. Every news article showed all the roads that were blocked off, the handful of ways that you could actually enter and exit the city, and explained, in great detail, exactly how exhausting walking over the local Ben Franklin bridge would be to all who attempted to do so. We have been told to expect technology to shut down due to overload. I personally spent the entire week posting random thoughts on Facebook, such as discussing the wisdom of sending tourists to the most dangerous city in the United States to use as a giant parking lot because surely, all the criminals would respect the out-of-state license plates. Right?

If I stand on my roof, I can see Philly. On a good night, I can be there in 15 minutes. Yet for months I have been told first, that I should consider walking, and second, that it would take upward of NINE hours to do so.

My partner-in-crime Bubbles and I decided to go see the Pope at 1 pm.  I hadn’t yet showered, dressed, or actually discussed with my husband that I was going to do so. (In case you were wondering, he was less than pleased.) Yet by 2:30 pm , we were standing in Center City taking selfies.  

Philly created a fear cage and called it the Papal Zone and shame on them for scaring away millions of pilgrims. We were told to expect to park at least a mile away from the train station. We were in the first row. The tickets that were supposed to be sold out in the pre-sale months ago were so undersold that volunteers actually worked the ticket machine FOR me to get me one. The Ben Franklin bridge, where the massive zombie hordes were expected to cross over from Camden to Philly was epically, dismally, ridiculously empty. The city of Philadelphia itself was no more crowded than the recent wine tasting event in my hometown* and, I rather think that my local streets were much more difficult to navigate as there were still plenty of cars around and Philly was a no-drive zone. (*Astute observation courtesy of Bubbles.) While it did take a while to go through the second security stop near City Hall, that was more due to comic understaffing and a total lack of communication than anything else. There were only ten stations and no one was told that fruit wasn’t allowed or that all electronics had to be turned on and tested. Once inside the hallowed “safe zone”, there were free water bottles courtesy of WaWa (which on top of the free Slushies we had already enjoyed from 7-11 meant that we were well hydrated) and lots of jumbo TV screens on which to watch the Papal proceedings. Because I’m lazy, we pretty much crossed the street and decided that was close enough. Why walk 20 blocks in one direction only to walk back later?

What we didn’t realize is that the circle around City Hall would be totally enclosed and we would be locked in without a bathroom, food, or exit for the next three hours.

I’m sure there was plenty of police activity closer to the big man himself. There were lots and lots of cops with really big guns at the train station and I can prove it because Bubbles took a picture with one. There were snipers, because I took a picture of them on the adjacent buildings. There were eight members of the National Guard protecting a completely empty corner that seemed to have zero target potential, but they were kind enough to give us accurate directions. There were dozens upon dozens of police from many states and many types of law enforcement manning the barricades set up along Market Street, leading people to camp out along Market Street, even though the Pope was never going to actually drive down Market Street. But on the block that is City Hall? Not a one. We were standing in the shadow of one of the most well-known buildings in Philadelphia and the only uniform we saw was a guy in a Scotland Yard shirt who seemed baffled as to why people kept coming up to talk to him. (Sure, there were probably plainclothes cops everywhere, but I didn't see an earpiece, a bulge, or body armor on anyone and we had plenty of time to look.) 

Did I see the Pope? Hell yes. It took a few hours and Bubble and I had to suffer through sore feet, hunger, and Jim Gaffigan. (Side note to whomever booked Jim Gaffigan for this event. You are fired.) We didn’t get the pleasure of watching Marky Mark (apparently, Philly doesn’t have any famous Catholics, so we had to borrow one from Boston), but we did get to watch almost everything else. When the giant TVs switched to live shots of the crowd and we could actually see the blue and red police escort lights start to bounce off the buildings – well, let me tell you first hand, it was a truly unbelievable feeling. I recognize that he is only a man and a humble one at that, but according to my faith, he is the big kahuna and to be that close, even for a Cafeteria Catholic like myself, was really quite breathtaking – even if he was just chilling in the back of a souped up Jeep Wrangler.

Getting out of Philly was just as easy as getting in – except this time, every single t-shirt vendor, button seller, and flag waver seemed to have shut up shop – along with every other storefront in Philly. It was actually sad that within a short two-block walk from the procession, there was hardly anyone out and about. The few establishments that were open were all fast-food franchises and even they were empty. I can’t even imagine the potential lost revenue. Even though there was only one train station open (out of the usual four) it was less crowded than a Saturday in December, when the trains are usually packed with families going into the city to see the lights. The bridge was still empty of all but a few hardy souls and the requisite Humvee of men in uniform.

I know this was only day one of a two-day event and I have heard that tomorrow is expected to be more crowded as the Pope will actually be doing mass instead of a wave, but I sincerely doubt there will be a huge pick up in traffic. I will be hosting a Faith and Football party, where I will be serving Holy Ghost cupcakes, Blood of Christ punch, and Body of Christ ‘nilla Wafers, so I’m obviously going straight to Hell which will preclude me from going back to Philly. But I urge those of you who have been told over and over again to stay far, far away to possibly reconsider. I can’t promise that your day will be as easy as mine. That it won’t rain. That something awful won’t happen. That you will get close to the Pope. I can, however, remind you that this is a once in a lifetime event. 

Do you want to say you were there? Or just that you watched it on TV?  

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Never Worry, Now That is a Lie

After this, I’ve only got one more book left kids. JUST ONE MORE!

#59 – Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis
Recommended by: BD

What I know about this musician before I read this book could fit in two sentences. He is the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He had a small cameo in Point Break. The end. Of course I loved their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik and I knew several people who had the famous Cocks in Socks poster on their walls in college. I probably played that album more than was healthy, but not anywhere close to the rotation of their contemporaries in music at that time – Pearl Jam.
Keidis is a weird dude. Very hippie-dippy when it comes to peace, love, and rock n roll, but also a raging heroin addict. He talks about the (many) women in his life with reverence and genuine respect, but they all sound like they were batshit crazy and that the relationships were unhealthy cycles of agony and ecstasy. 

If you are into his music, then I think this is a great book because it really explains how the Chili Peppers came to create their sound, their process for writing and recording music, and what they get out of playing it live. His insider gossip is also relatively high end. I mean, this is a kid who used Sonny Bono’s address to attend high school in a good district! He was once babysat by Cher! It was also great in terms of how he talked about his addiction. He is really honest and open about it all. It is linear, but he really only focuses on his own personal life. Flea is a constant thread through the book, but their relationship isn’t really discussed in great depth. It was navel gazing with a really great soundtrack.

Would I recommend this to someone who wasn’t into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. No. But I have to admit that I Under the Bridge has been stuck in my head for the last week and I haven’t really minded.

#60 – What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
Recommended by:  MK

My initial reaction was that this was going to be a relatively light read, but once again, I was surprised. There is a nice heft to this book, a richness that I really didn’t expect but I fully enjoyed. Alice hits her head one day at the gym and forgets ten years of her life. When she comes to, everything is not what she expected it would be and she spends a week trying to figure out her new life as well as what happened in her old one. It is well documented that I fear nothing more than missing out on life. Death is one thing, but the Rip Van Winkle effect is something altogether more horrifying. To wake up and realize that the pregnancy you were so looking forward to enjoying has turned into a surly 10-year old, without the intervening years of love and adoration to make that child bearable? Or to realize that you husband is a stranger who hates you? That is my nightmare. This is a perfect book club choice because there is so much to discuss. I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out how the author was going to resolve it and I have to say, I’m not sure I’m satisfied, but I don’t think any other choice would have been better.

However, I could have done without the minor character subplots that were conducted entirely via written letter. The main plot more than held up and didn’t contain a single letter, so surely the author could have come up with a better delivery system than the clunky expositional letter? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Two Strikes

I love to read. I once got the worst sunburn of my entire life trying to finish the last 100 pages in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It had been an overcast, cool morning in July when I started reading and a blazingly hot, bright sunny afternoon when I finished. Six months afterward, I still had the lines on my shoulders from that sunburn (immortalized forever in my wedding photos) and almost 15 years later, there is a permanent scar. That is how badly I burned. Yet I never once noticed the sound of my flesh sizzling because I was so engrossed in the story.

This week, I tried to read a collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski and I felt like every page took a million years to read. I felt like once I had read the first story, the rest were all too similar. I also felt like this target audience for this book was so clearly not me it might as well have had an circle with a line through a pair of pants on the back cover. I tried. I really did. I adore the guy who assigned me this book. He was always cool without trying to be and has over time recommended some really interesting things in terms of TV, movies, books, and music. But I just couldn’t with Bukowski. It was all just too raw and risqué and down and dirty for me. 

For the record, that is two solid strikeouts in a row in terms of the list. I'm fairly ashamed of myself, but I learned a very long time ago that there are too many good books in the world to suffer through bad one. That doesn't mean these were bad books - obviously at least one person loved them enough to recommend them to me, but art truly is in the eye of the beholder and in both cases, I was not beholden. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

We Were On a Break

So I was on vacation last week and it was glorious. Very limited wi-fi meant I pretty much popped onto Facebook, posted a picture, and popped off again. A quick read of my USA Today app and one e-mail check per day and I was done. During my vacation, I managed to read a bit. I would have read more, but it turns out that while ignoring your own children is perfectly acceptable, ignoring your niece and nephew (and subsequently your BIL and SIL) is frowned upon. The few times my SIL and I actually tried to read, some damn kid always interrupted. The nerve!

Anyway, I am also off-list as the moment. I’ve got a few books to go but I am busy hunting them down and besides, I was on vacation! I wanted to live free and pick my own reading material. Here’s what I read:

Fly Away Home – Jennifer Weiner

                Breakfast in five-star hotels was always the same.

Surprisingly, I owned this one but had not read it. It wasn’t even on the right shelf. Nor was it stamped. (Of course I have a personalized stamp for every book once it is read. I’m a nerd. Have we met?) A friend strenuously recommended it and the discussion she and I will have will be private. The one I have with you will be much more succinct – I liked it, but didn’t love it. I felt like the entire book was one giant first act, half of a second act, and then no third act at all. I also felt like a pivotal and important scene that would have changed the entire book was blatantly ignored, and considering the author is a proud feminist, it was a scene I really wanted her to sink her teeth into, not pass over in a blip. Bummer for me when the damn writers don’t write what I want! However, it’s a good light read and if you are a fan of her oeuvre, then go ahead and pick it up. If not, skip this one and start with Good in Bed or Little Earthquakes, the two books of hers that I love the most. (I have noticed that her books are very personal to each reader, more so than with other authors, so you might want to read the synopsis first to see which one sings to you.)

The Martian- Andy Weir

                I’m pretty much fucked.

Get thee to a bookstore immediately and buy this book. Please. Those of you who are technically minded will absolutely adore this book about a man stuck on Mars who must figure out how to survive using nothing but his brains and the stuff he has on hand. It is an epic case of McGuyvering with a truly fantastic narrator. He’s smart, funny, whimsical, and basically everything I expect Matt Damon would be in person if we ever met. Oh, wait, did I mention they are making a movie of this very book starring Matt Damon. Now, I dare you to read this book and not hear his voice. Honestly though – this is a fantastic book. While it is science fiction, the author tried really hard to make the science real. If you have an engineer in your life, or a botanist, or any space geek, this is the perfect gift book. Trust me. And if you failed chemistry, never made it to physics, and have a black thumb (cough cough), then you will still love this book because the writing is so sharp. Don’t you dare even think of seeing this movie without reading the book first!

Desperate Networks – Bill Carter

As the 2004-2005 television season hit its first benchmark, the close of the November sweeps rating period, Bob Wright, the NBC chairman, sitting at his desk in his big office on the fifty-second floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, found himself troubled.

I picked this up at a used book sale. I have a soft spot for books about television and movies and this author has written two excellent books about the battle for late night TV. I like to see what is in the sausage, so to speak, when it comes to how a movie or television show is made. I am always shocked how little actual creativity is called for and how much “art” is made by committee. This book was about how NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox battled for ratings and viewers over the course of the time between when Friends ended and Lost began. There are a bajillion names and everyone is always leaving one company for another and it is light on gossip and heavy on process, but it was still interesting. The snark, when it does appear, is worthwhile. (The section making fun of the Friends cast for deigning to work for a million per episode was great.) I imagine any true insiders already know all of this and the book is a decade old, but it was still a solid read.

And now, my friends, it is time. I have put it off long enough. I have bargained my way out of reading more of it. But this was the only book the library had in stock and it is time to pay the piper. Heaven help me. I am about to read Cormac Bloody McCarthy.