Out of Office

I am in San Diego visiting friends, so there is no update this week. JBdN will return next week.

That said, I don’t want to deprive you of your weekly dose of Kirby content, so:

You’re My Natural Selection, Said Darwin to His Wife

Valentine’s Day. February 14. That special day each year when we celebrate love, romance, and the 1779 death of the British colonizer Captain James Cook, killed by indigenous Hawaiians after he tried and failed to kidnap the Hawaiian chief, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

Yes, surprising absolutely no one, I am not a “Valentine’s Day” person. I love Jess, and enjoy showing my affection and appreciation for her in my own way. Doing so on a D-list holiday weaponized by the Valentine’s Day Industrial Complex to encourage performative demonstrations of love to one’s significant in the manner of flowers, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and a trip to the Garden of Olives? Not for me.

Fortunately, Jess has similar if, admittedly, less melodramatic feelings regarding Valentine’s Day, and we typically stay in. This year, though, we decided to mix it up, and traveled to Dayton to see a special 25th anniversary showing of YOU’VE GOT MAIL at the Neon. There was a signature cocktail and an array of desserts made by Megan Smith, the founder of St. Anne the Tart. It wasn’t til after the movie was over and we were about to head out that I realized the drink and desserts were a salute to Café Lalo, a NYC restaurant that was apparently made famous by the movie. There was even a cute neon sign that I wanted to abscond with. Alas, I had no pockets that were big enough. Say la vee.

My attitude towards Valentine’s Day remains unchanged, but even I will admit that this was a fun way to spend it, and the best person to spend it with.

Next time I’ll wear JNCOs.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Reading:

Finally finished THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU. The first half was slow and hard for me to get into — not much happened, and there was a little more focus on romance than is perhaps my cup of tea — but the second half more than made the experience worth it. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s next book, SILVER NITRATE, due out July 18, definitely sounds more up my alley.

I’ve rented two books for the Kindle from the library for my San Diego trip: THE VERIFIERS, by Jane Pek, and THE GLASS HOTEL, by Emily St John Mandel. I am excited about both and have been saving them for this trip.

Watching:

AMSTERDAM was a peculiar film. It was a kind of screwball comedy mystery thriller? And also a period piece? It was weird and tonally inconsistent af, but it’s the sort of weird that appeals to me. Plus, the performances were superb. I enjoyed it overall.

I somehow went nearly thirty years without ever having seen FARGO, which is curious because I love a number of films in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre and am in general a fan of darkly funny crime stories. So I don’t know, man. It’s just one of those weird cultural gaps I talked about a few weeks ago. Regardless, I remedied that glaring oversight this week. And, well — FARGO is the kind of movie that, when it’s over, you sit back and think “fuck that was good.” Only 98 minutes long, too, which is *chef’s kiss*. I kind of want to watch it again already.

Wanting:

This gorgeous Ganzeer print.

Listening:

One day I will talk, probably at a length far greater than anyone wants, about how much I used to love Incubus, and how, even to this very day, I still lament the change in sound they underwent, around 2001, from “oh christ this is sweet” to “a more boring and generic example of alternative rock you shall not find.” I will title that future essay “Mourning View.”

In the meantime, here’s “Take Me to Your Leader” from Incubus’s 1997 EP ENJOY INCUBUS, which I have been playing this week. The video is just awful, so close your eyes and just, like, vibe to the tunes, man.

And Kirby:

Kirby, forlornly looking for Jess. Fret not, though — he eventually found her.

Memories, and That Time I was in the Local News Holding a Big Pink Pro-Abortion Sign

There isn’t much I like about Facebook. It’s ugly to look at, clunky to use, its leadership team displays an almost superhuman contempt for user data privacy, and it’s proven to be a very effective tool for fostering far-right radicalization. What’s not to like?

But — this piece isn’t about that.

Complaining about Facebook has become très chiant. No one wants to read about it. I certainly don’t want to write about it. Especially since, despite the aforementioned complaints, so many of us still use it or its adopted sibling Instagram, or both — myself included.

So yes, yes — Facebook is objectively the worst. That makes it all the more ironic, then, that it possesses one of my favorite features: Facebook Memories. The function where it shows you stuff you posted or were tagged in on that day in the past. It’s not a feature I would have thought to ask for in a social media site, but one I would greatly miss if it went away. So many of my Memories make me smile. They remind me of specific moments from past events, show me pictures of myself and my many comrades from over the years, make me laugh again at a funny (or funny) joke.

It’s also sometimes a double-edged sword. Not every Memory is one on which I look back fondly. For instance: I know for most of the month of March, when I crack open the ol’ Facebook app in the mornings, while I’m waiting for the coffee to brew so that I can frankenstein back to life, and I am presented with a series of Memories that let me relive painfully specific moments in the saga of a sick, dying, then dead dog, I will not be filled with the warm and fuzzies. But that’s how’s how life is. We remember, both the bad and the good. Come March, I know I’ll think about Molly more than usual anyways, regardless of if it’s in my Memories or not.

Also, LOL at the phrase “my Memories” because, as I’ve shared before, my actual memory is shit. I need tools like social media, this blog, my journal, and the 20,000 photos on my phone to help me remember my life. Which is why I’m grateful when Facebook occasionally shows me a thing I’d almost completely forgotten about.

Like when, six years ago, a picture of me, holding a large pink sign that said HER BODY, HER CHOICE at a rally for Planned Parenthood, showed up in the local news.

When people started sending me screenshots of this article, I remember my first reaction was relief — relief that I’d taken the time to make sure my sign’s kerning was decent.

And hey — better to show up in the local newspaper this way than in, say, the police blotter.

The downside of this Memory is that it serves as a depressing reminder of how abortion rights are somehow worse off than they were in 2017.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Reading:

Still working my way through THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU.

I was staring at the coffee maker this morning, and the pinball machine that is my brain started thinking about a Twitter thread from a few years back where someone imagined what an ALADDIN movie starring Jason Statham would be like. This was right after Disney had announced that the live-action ALADDIN movie would be directed by Guy Ritchie, a guy who is primarily known for making violent and funny British gangster movies. If you like that first bit, the writer tweeted a few more bits that didn’t get picked up by the threadreader bot. They’re just as funny.

Watching:

Jess was out of town for some of last week, so Kirby and I held our own little film festival. Some of the entries were movies I’d seen before; others I hadn’t. We watched: BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, SPY, THE FUGITIVE, UNFORGIVEN, PRESUMED INNOCENT, THE EQUALIZER 2, MR. RIGHT, and ABSOLUTE POWER. Here are some quick thoughts.

  • UNFORGIVEN — I love a well-executed piece of genre deconstruction, and Clint Eastwood did that with marvelously with this film and Westerns. A pretty perfect movie all-around.
  • WAKANDA FOREVER — This was… a mess. I had a whole thing written, but it was very “old man yells at cloud”-ing and I bored myself. Instead, I’ll just say: Namor chose his name because it means “No Love” in Spanish? That’s the decision the filmmakers went with. They sat in a room and said, “yes let’s do this aren’t we clever.” Okay.
  • ABSOLUTE POWER — So dumb. Poorly written, poorly acted. At least in this film, the much younger Laura Linney is Clint Eastwood’s daughter, and not his girlfriend.
  • THE EQUALIZER 2 — Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington could make ten more of these and I would be in line at the movie theater for every one of them. So glad a third film finally comes out later this year.
  • THE FUGITIVE — I have probably seen this movie 20 times and I never get tired of it. This article from THE ATLANTIC a few years back is spot on.
  • PRESUMED INNOCENT — Another film where Harrison Ford is accused of murdering someone, this time a mistress. As legal thrillers go, it’s dumb but entertaining. Bonnie Bedelia is electrifying as Ford’s wife.

Wanting:

Another one filed under the Wanted-and-Acquired category: these reusable travel toiletry bottles with custom labels.

Listening:

This cover of Eve6’s “Inside Out” — AKA the heart in a blender song — done in the style of the B-52s, by the band the B-69s.

And Kirby:

Who do you think was happier to see the other after nearly a week apart?

Well, Jess, of course. Kirby don’t got no eyes. But Kirby definitely was the happiest to smell and hear his mom.

Sites for Sore Eyes

Once upon a time, I built websites.

I loved doing it, in fact. I’ve been building websites since the end of the last millennium. My first two sites were built while I was in high school. The first was Elephantitic Monkey, followed by Stranded on the Edge of Infinity. Both served the same purposes:

  1. I wanted a forum for inflicting my ranting, bad opinions upon the world. Let’s just say that an insecure 17 or 18-year-old who smugly believes they are smarter than everyone else in the room, and who thinks they have a gift for being edgy-funny, should probably not have a bully pulpit. If teenage me had possessed a smartphone and a 5G connection, I would have been an absolute menace.
  2. They were places where I could hang out with my friends, both offline and online. We had writers, artists, monthly columnists, and a message board. The weird little communities that sprung up were my favorite thing about sites.

Elephantitic Monkey was an obnoxiously colorful little site. Its logo was an MS Paint image of a monkey carting around its cartoonishly large testicles in a wheelbarrow. It was wonderful and still fills me with delight. I searched through my 25 years of archives and was actually able to find it. I may be a digital hoarder, but I am at least an organized one.

Great, now this post is NSFW.

Stranded on the Edge of Infinity was a much more emo-looking site. I designed its logo myself with some image editing software that I probably acquired through extralegal means. Of the two sites, Stranded is the less interesting to me. I’m pretty sure at the time I wasn’t very happy and was also going through a self-serious phase, none of which ages well.

Both sites were created using the late, lamented Yahoo Geocities PageBuilder. It was a great tool for a teenage novice looking to infect the internet in 1999. It was also an absolute bastard to update a lot of pages at one time. So, these sites were eventually retired, and I moved onto a parallel pursuit, one whose sobriquet had been coined but was not yet in wide use.

I’m talking about blogging.

I built the first iteration of JOSH BALES dot NET back in 2001. I bought the joshbales.net domain for 15 bucks, found a cheap web host, and I was ready to go.

I taught myself HTML, CSS, and a little PHP by studying the underlying code of blogs I liked and reverse-engineering them. I got pretty good at doing a full visual refresh about once a year. I could spend hours staring at HTML code, playing with CSS, making them do what I wanted, and barely notice the passing of time. It was so much fun, and so rewarding to see the finished product. I did 11 or 12 redesigns before doing so became, first, time prohibitive — I was working full time and also had a life! — and second, became ridiculously hard to do from a technical perspective. Blogging software like WordPress, which this site uses, has evolved over the years and has some cool functionality, but it’s conversely made it harder for an amateur like me to keep up. Now I use premade themes with minimal customizability. It’s a little less fun, but it’s much easier and allows me to use my limited free time for other pursuits, like lecturing myself about how I really should be writing.

Have I been blogging for over 20 years? Yes. Do I still have those archives? I do. Will I ever add them to the current archives, which only go back to 2015? Absolutely not. The thought of anyone today reading what Younger Josh wrote is almost enough to give me the cold sweats. They’re not as bad as the stuff that was on Elephantic Monkey or Stranded, but they’re still, at best, very cringe.

Anyhow, thanks for reading my meandering TED Talk.

What initially sparked this crawl down memory lane is that I was thinking it’s been a minute since this site has had a visual refresh. Black/white/gray as a color scheme is still very much me, and it never really falls out of style, but I’m tired of it. It could be the February-in-Ohio blues talking, but I want to inject a little more color, a little more warmth into the design. That’s right — it’s makeover time.

If anyone reading this designs WordPress themes and is interested in doing a custom job, shoot me an email or DM me on social with your rates and some work you’ve done.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Reading:

I’ve been watching more movies and writing the last couple of weeks, so my reading has slowed down a bit. Currently in the middle of THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. What I love about Moreno-Garcia’s books is that she is constantly switching genres. MOREAU is a historical sci-fi. The book before this one — the excellent VELVET WAS THE NIGHT — is a 1970s-set Mexican noir. My favorite of her books — THE GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW — is a sort of fairy tale set in the Jazz Age and follows a young woman and a Mayan god of death having an adventure across Mexico.

Watching:

Jess and I are working our way through POKER FACE on Peacock. We’re a few episodes in, and it is quite good. Each episode is its own separate case-of-the-week, so you don’t necessarily need to watch them in order. There is an overall connecting story always in the background — and occasionally the foreground — so it might be more enjoyable to watch it from the beginning. From Rian Johnson, who can do no wrong when it comes to murder-mysteries, and starring Natasha Lyonne as Charlie, who is essentially a human lie detector. I have read that the format of this show is modeled after COLUMBO, wherein we see the murder take place at the beginning of the episode, thus letting the viewer already know the identity of the malefactor, and then watch Charlie figure it out. Lyonne is so much fun to watch as Charlie. I hope we will be able to spend many more seasons with her.

For the last few years, a comrade and I have been working our way through the FAST & FURIOUS series. This is my second time watching most of them, his first. Last weekend we watched FAST FIVE, which is probably the best entry in this dumb, ridiculously over-the-top, fun franchise. TOKYO DRIFT still has my heart, though.

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS, from the filmmakers who brought us NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. A kid attends a fantasy writer’s camp where he learns his novel idea has been stolen by a published but struggling author. That’s the general plot, but it doesn’t do the film justice. I saw this when it came out 15 years ago and loved it. Hadn’t seen it since, though I’ve been talking about rewatching it for years. It was as delightful as I remembered, and my comrade and I were laughing very loudly throughout most of the movie. Then a really weird thing happened near the end: the main character casually drops a transphobic slur. Bear in mind, the film’s tone and sense of humor up to this point have been gentle and goofy — then out of nowhere comes a wholly unnecessary slur. Ripped me completely out of the movie. I know cultural landscapes change and some will argue that you shouldn’t judge a piece of past art by today’s moral standards, but a) this movie came out in 2009, which wasn’t that long ago, and b) the rights of trans people everywhere right now are under extreme attack from all sides, so no. It wasn’t acceptable then, and it isn’t acceptable now. Incredibly disappointing for an otherwise brilliant movie.

Wanting:

This USCSS Nostromo hat — which I already bought in the days since I started writing this post. I’m going to San Diego at the end of the month, and this will be my travel hat.

Advising:

Here’s a tip on how to prepare for your annual performance review.

Listening:

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS did have a fantastic soundtrack, including some songs by 1990’s New Age artist Ray Lynch, which really fit the weird story-in-the-movie parts quite perfectly. Lynch’s album DEEP BREAKFAST also makes for excellent background music while writing. Here’s “The Oh of Pleasure”:

And Kirby:

Two full body shakes in the morning and this guy is ready to tackle the world (breakfast).