Paint the Town Pink

Few things bring me greater joy in this life than a reason to dress up in a thematically appropriate outfit. Give me a themed event, the more offbeat or outré, the better, and I will hurl myself at it with reckless sartorial abandon. Doesn’t matter what the theme is, really: post-apocalypse, Jersey Shore, film noir, CRYBABY, Adventurers Society, Tarantinoverse, James Bond/spy, une fête en blanc, space luau, Dolly-Parton-banned-books… the list goes on. And that’s not including Halloween.

So when something like BARBIE comes around, bringing with it the opportunity to dress up and paint the town pink with a few comrades…? Well, let’s just say I show up.

We saw BARBIE at The Neon in Dayton, of course. The magnificent Barbie Box is a creation of local Dayton shop The Stoney Cottage and was conveniently located outside The Neon. This Barbie Box was cooler and more fun than any studio-provided cardboard display could ever dream of being.

After the movie: drinks, dinner, and more drinks at Salar, followed by an impromptu arm-wrestling match and an ill-advised footrace down the middle of Fifth Street (which I’m pretty sure I saw someone filming).

But what about the movie itself? Could it possibly have lived up to all the hype?

Honestly? It’s a work of art.

This isn’t me being hyperbolic or ironic. Writer-director Greta Gerwig took a three-score-old fashion doll and somehow turned it into an intelligent, self-aware, feminist, patriarchy-critiquing, and subversive film that also is both slyly and overtly hilarious, and in general a frankly bonkers piece of cinema. If that ain’t art, I’m not sure what is.

That a big corporation like Mattel, which owns the right to Barbie, allowed Gerwig to make this film, which also lampoons Mattel in the film – Will Ferrell playing Mattel’s CEO is exactly what one would expect out of Will Ferrell — is nothing short of incredible. I wish more corporations would let artists take similar risks with their IP. Sure, there would no doubt be some whiffs, but the hits could be so big. At the very least, we would get interesting films out of it.

I would be shocked if BARBIE didn’t walk away with at least one Oscar nomination for acting – looking at you, Ryan Gosling, for somehow bringing pathos to Ken — and another for Best Screenplay. It’s the perfect populist vehicle to inject some energy into awards season.

By no means is BARBIE not without its flaws. There are a few times where the film calls itself out in a way that, while funny and self-effacing, also feels a bit like the filmmakers are doing it before someone else does. The end of the third act also gets a little too weirdly meta in a way that didn’t fully work for me. Thankfully, the film almost immediately makes up for this in the denouement, with Margot Robbie delivering the final line of dialogue that is both extremely funny and the perfect note on which to end things.

So yes, BARBIE is not a perfect film — but what work of art is?

What BARBIE is, though, is a delightful way to spend two hours in a movie theater, surrounded by your pals and a bunch of other weirdos dressed in pink.

You Can’t Outrun ‘Em

I started writing something this week that was supposed to be small but unexpectedly morphed into a longer essay. It needs time to marinate before I do a proper edit, so it’ll probably go up next week.

In the meantime, how about some links?


The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unprecedented, marvelous (har har) achievement — one that’s engulfed Hollywood and is choking the film industry.

Even if the Marvel movies aren’t your bag, this is a fascinating history of how the MCU came to be.

Sometime during the last couple of years, I realized that I no longer needed to see every piece of intellectual property Marvel puts out. As much as I enjoyed A VERY HAWKEYE CHRISTMAS and THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, WAKANDA FOREVER and THOR FOUR were not good, had bloated runtimes, and committed the worst cinema sin of them all: being boring. Will I watch LOKI season 2 and GOTG VOL. 3 whenever they show up on Disney+? Yes. But the next AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, et al.? Not likely.

So a whistleblower from inside the right genre of government agency, the super-secretive National Reconnaissance Office — a long-time employee who absolutely radiates “credible source” energy — turns over classified information to Congress about how the U.S. government has in its possession “recovered intact and partially intact craft of non-human origin,” and there’s hardly a blip about it in the media. Fucking wild.

Grusch said the recoveries of partial fragments through and up to intact vehicles have been made for decades through the present day by the government, its allies, and defense contractors. Analysis has determined that the objects retrieved are “of exotic origin (non-human intelligence, whether extraterrestrial or unknown origin) based on the vehicle morphologies and material science testing and the possession of unique atomic arrangements and radiological signatures,” he said.

“We are not talking about prosaic origins or identities,” Grusch said, referencing information he provided Congress and the current ICIG. “The material includes intact and partially intact vehicles.”

Ceramic weapons, hand-painted to look like the dishes in your grandma’s cabinet.

The morning star in particular would look handsome in my kitchen.

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

Reading:

The latest Trump indictment. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

  • Trump knowingly took boxes of classified documents from the White House.
  • Trump stored those boxes of classified documents, some of which were so full that papers were spilling out of them, in an unsecured bathroom at Mar-a-Lago.
  • During an interview for an upcoming book, Trump shared a classified plan of attack on Iran.
  • Trump allowed himself to be recorded during that interview and said that he knew this plan of attack on Iran was classified and that as POTUS he could have declassified it, but as a former POTUS he could in fact not declassify it: “See as president I could have declassified it. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
  • Trump repeatedly lied and obstructed, over and over again, about having the classified documents in his possession to the government agencies tasked with collecting said classified documents, for a period of about a year and a half.

The full indictment makes for a fascinating and infuriating read. It’s one thing to read a summary in a news article, but reading the transcript of a conversation where he casually and openly admits his guilt is another. I can only imagine how it will land for the jurors to hear the actual audio of his distinctive voice.

If after this you still think Donald Trump should be the next president, then you are not the patriotic American you probably think you are.

Watching:

Each month, the Drexel screens a series of films based on a certain theme or a director’s oeuvre. Last month, it was the films of David Lynch. This month, the theme is “Seduction Cinema”: erotic thrillers from the 80s and 90s, full of low-life protagonists and the most fatale of femme fatales. So… right up my alley. BODY HEAT played last week. Tomorrow is BASIC INSTINCT. My hope is to see all four films.

BODY HEAT is a nearly perfect film, expertly written and directed, but its greatest virtue is the talent in front of the camera. I mean – just look at this cast! Kathleen Turner is the star of this show, and she smolders so much on screen that it’s a wonder the film reel never caught fire. Even the supporting cast is fabulous. Mickey Rourke, baby-faced and radiating charisma during his few brief scenes. A dancing Ted Danson. And Richard Crenna, clearly having a blast as Turner’s character’s bastard of a husband. So good!

Listening:                   

To Jenny Lewis’s new album, JOY’ALL, which dropped Friday. I haven’t given it a full listen yet, but the few songs I have listened to are, unsurprisingly, catchy as hell. “Psychos” in particular has been stuck in my head.

And Kirby:

We had an unexpected visitor last weekend. While I was outside with Kirby, this adorable “little” puppy wandered into our yard, somehow managing to squeeze her sizable melon in between the bars of the wrought iron fence.

She wasn’t wearing a collar, so we didn’t know her name or where she was from. We assumed she was local, so we posted in our neighborhood’s Facebook group and on Nextdoor, then waited. She was very sweet and well-behaved and stayed with us for several hours, where she drank a lot of water and napped on the floor in the library. We eventually reunited her with her humans, who informed us that the wee lassie’s name is Shorty.

How did Kirby handle having a guest dog in the house? Benign indifference is how I would describe his attitude. He was fine with her. A little curious. It probably helped that Shorty didn’t try to come between him and his mom. If she had, I’m not quite sure how our old-man little mama’s boy would’ve handled it.

Previously, on josh bales [dot] net…

How is it that the first day back to work following a long weekend is so much harder than a regular Monday? I spent my first working hour slurping coffee, responding to easy emails, and trying and failing to learn a new-to-me Excel trick. Then my first meetings of the day involved a bunch of us sitting around, staring morosely at each other. Today felt like a hangover; not one of the body but of the soul.

Which begs the question: what then is the spiritual equivalent to Pedialyte?

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

Reading:

Fan-BLEEPING-tastic: Merriam-Webster on “expletive infixations.”

Finally finished BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY. You can clearly tell that it is Book One of a trilogy because you get to the end of the final chapter and the narrative just… stops. I’ll probably read the next book, but this is for sure not my favorite style of trilogy.

Watching:

Finished season 2 of EUPHORIA and the first season of THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME. EUPHORIA is so good, but this season damn near broke me emotionally. Fezco and Lexi became my two favorite characters this season. Lexi’s play? Fucking bananas in the best way possible. But how things went down for Fezco and Ashtray almost made me cry, and reader — I am not a crier by nature.

I really wanted to like THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME, but the show made it so hard. The cast was okay but they had terrible material to work with. The mystery wasn’t very interesting, and its unwinding was poorly executed, the pacing was wildly uneven, and Garner and Angourie Rice, who played Garner’s character’s stepdaughter, had the chemistry of two potatoes sitting in a bin at Kroger. Jess and my sister both liked the show and the book upon which it is based, so it’s possible I am just the sole inhabitant of Asshole Island here. Victor Garber has a fun role in one episode, and it was nice to see Sydney and Jack Bristow reunited for a few minutes.

More than anything, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME made me want to rewatch PEPPERMINT, the film in which Garner essentially plays The Punisher and absolutely murders everyone who was remotely involved in the death of her family. Maybe that’s what was missing from THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME: Jennifer Garner PEPPERMINTing her way through the mystery of why her husband disappeared.

Wanting:

A writing retreat. A week someplace quiet, just me, no distractions, where I can really kick off this novel that’s been simmering now for a while. Ideally, somewhere where I can go for walks. Comfortable patio or porch.A grocery store, maybe a couple of restaurants within a 15-minute drive. The woods would be okay, but it couldn’t be too isolated. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT ruined me on being alone at night in the woods. For that, I would need to be armed with a short-barrelled shotgun and a bat’leth.

Listening:                   

3 Hours of Relaxing Super Nintendo Music.

And Kirby:

He’s feeling better, but still having some issues. Hoping we will have them figured out soon.

The white dot is a piece of rice affixed adorably upon his snoot.

.

Day Jobs (And the People At Them Who Keep Us Sane)

I don’t often talk about my day job here. It’s not that my employer is some big secret; a quick google search will tell you. I’m not ashamed of or hate my day job. I enjoy what I do, and I like to think the arrangement between me and my employer has been mutually beneficial over the years. Nor is it that I feel like I need to hide the things I write about here. If I did, I would certainly not be posting under my own name everywhere on god’s gay internet. I cuss and am just as much a charming(?) scoundrel during the hours of 0730-1630 as I am online and in my “real” life. (The primary difference between Work Josh and the other Joshes is that Work Josh has learned to cultivate a veneer of professionalism that the others don’t always need, or choose, to wear.)

The real reason I don’t discuss my day job here is boring but also, I think, understandable: I talk and think about work enough while I am at work, as well as outside of working hours because I have friends and family who also have the same employer, and when we get together work is a common topic of conversation, that the idea of logging onto josh bales [dot] net and talking about work even more typically makes me want to self-defenestrate.

Typically.

Setting aside that entirely too-long intro, I have been reminded lately about how wonderful the people I work with are and wanted to write about them a bit.

A few weeks ago, my immediate team came together for an onsite in Dayton. A few hours of work followed by a, uh, boisterous happy hour at a local cantina. It was sunny and warm, the cantina’s doors were rolled up, letting in a breeze, and the margaritas and tacos and margaritas flowed. The team doesn’t get together like this often. Everyone is remote, some of us live in different cities and states. We talk every day, but sitting at a table together, laughing at some wildly inappropriate comment someone just made, is rare. Such a convergence happens once, maybe twice a year. While I absolutely do not miss going into an office every day, I do miss that type of in-person camaraderie, especially with this crew. I like to joke that we may be a bunch of a-holes, but we’re decent a-holes because everyone is kind and a good human. They’re also some of the sharpest, hardest-working, and most delightful people with whom I’ve ever worked. I am hashtag blessed to work with them.

Then, a few days later, a slightly different configuration of us got together to take part in Dayton’s Walk to End MS, in honor of Norma, our comrade who passed away last October. Norma was one of the kindest, toughest people I’ve ever known. She had a wonderfully whimsical sense of humor and the deadest of deadpan deliveries. In a different timeline, she could have been a very effective standup comic.

Not all of us who were at the Walk are on the same team anymore, but we were all close with Norma. Catching up with those whom I don’t see as often was fun, as was getting lunch with everyone afterward. Norma had an easy way of bringing people together, and I’m grateful but not surprised that she was able to use that ability one more time.

After the Walk was over, we took a group photo by the bathrooms. A detail that Norma, I think, would have appreciated.

OF COURSE Kirby came with us.

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

Reading:

Bluesky is a newish social media service trying to replace Twitter. I’ve been on Bluesky for about a month and I really, really like it so far. The vibe is weird and goofy and fun and chill. Bluesky is still in beta and is invite-only for now, but if you’re legitimately interested in checking it out, hit me up. The benevolent devs have gifted me with one golden ticket invite code. You can also join the waitlist.

Warren Ellis with solid advice on breaking up with your phone and then hiring it to be your concierge. The significant hurdle for most people – myself included – is that even if we quit Facebook, Instagram, et al., most of our friends and family would still be using those services and we would lose a significant connection – maybe our only one – to those folks.

I’ve got like 8% to go on BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY. So close.

Watching:

EVIL DEAD RISE. I really wanted to like this. The change in setting was interesting – a rundown apartment building in Los Angeles – but I didn’t find myself invested in the characters, so when they start dying off, my attitude was “it be like that sometimes.” RISE did make some interesting additions to the Evil Dead lore, but it wasn’t enough to make the overall film more interesting. I’d love to see another Evil Dead film set in a different time period and culture, like what the PREDATOR folks did with the excellent PREY. Hey, it worked for ARMY OF DARKNESS.

SCREAM VI. Now this was good. I’ve seen all the SCREAM films, the original is a classic, but as a series, they’ve never been beloved to me or anything like they are to some people. So it’s been a pleasant surprise to me just how much fun last year’s SCREAM V and now VI are. The newer characters are well-drawn, the legacy characters have interesting things to do, and the filmmakers have found a number of ways to subvert expectations in ways that aren’t dumb or contrived.

Wanting:

Shockingly, nothing this week.

Listening:                   

“Anytime,” by Eve 6 (aka the band behind the “heart in a blender” song). On their Patreon, Max from Eve 6 writes:

Way back in the year 2001 we had a song called Anytime come out on the soundtrack to a very serious and important art film called Out Cold starring zach galifianakis. The song hasn’t ever been available on streaming platforms. We’ve been getting requests for YEARS to release it but we couldn’t because we didn’t own the master recording……………………… until now!

I’ve never heard the original so I can comment on it, but this version of “Anytime” fucks hard, as the kids say. Punchy, and a bit of an earworm. It’s only available on the Eve 6 Patreon (at least, for now), so you’ll need to be a patron to listen to it, which, quite frankly, you should be anyway. Max is a fab writer and also really funny. He’s been a beacon of shitposting hope the last few years on Twitter.

And Kirby:

He’s feeling a bit under the weather right now, a side effect – we think – from an antibiotic he’s on. But he did enjoy sitting in the sun for a bit yesterday.

Photo by Roberto, our trusted Kirbysitter.

Mother’s Day, 2023

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and mom-like figures out there, but especially to my mom. We will be celebrating as we usually do on this day, by going out for Mexican for lunch.

She hates pictures of herself, but tough shit, Lori — this one is cute.

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

Reading:

Two-thirds of the way through BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY, by Ken MacLeod. I don’t read many space operas these days, but it was favorably mentioned in one of the 800 newsletters to which I subscribe, so I figured I’d give it a shot. (That it’s only 320 pages was also attractive.)

The plot summary per Goodreads:

When a brilliant scientist gets a letter from herself about faster-than-light travel, she doesn’t know what to believe. The equations work, but her paper is discredited – and soon the criticism is more than scientific. Exiled by the establishment, she gets an offer to build her starship from an unlikely source. But in the heights of Venus and on a planet of another star, a secret is already being uncovered that will shake humanity to its foundations.

I’m enjoying this one quite a bit. There are a bunch of characters, as one would suspect from a sweeping space opera, but their characterizations are distinct enough and interesting that it’s been easy for me to keep track of who is who. The plot is engaging and MacLeod never gets too infodump-y with the worldbuilding and the science/engineering bits. HALLOWED SKY is apparently the first in a trilogy, so unless the last third of this book goes completely off the rails, I am planning to read book 2.

Watching:

For my birthday this year, my sister got me a membership to the Drexel, one of Columbus’s indie theaters. We used that membership for the first time to see POLITE SOCIETY last week. The story follows Ria, a young martial artist and aspiring stunt woman, as she attempts to rescue her older sister Lena from marrying Salim, a rich and slimy chud. The plot is a little insane in the best way possible. Lots of ridiculous fights, humor that actually made me LOL, plus a talented and charming cast, and – most importantly – the runtime is only 104 minutes.

We also watched VIGIL, a murder-mystery set aboard a British nuclear submarine, the HMS Vigil. This one was so good that I actually stayed up past my bedtime – on a school night, no less! – to finish it.

Wanting:

This Steelcase Series 1 Work Office Chair, in canary. I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but for a while now the skin on my current office chair has been peeling off like it’s a character in a HELLRAISER movie. It needs replacing, but I can’t quite bring myself to pay $548 for a chair. Sure, my current chair has served me well for ten years, and I spend >9 hours a day with my ass planted on it, so, like with buying a bed, if I’m going to spend a third of my life (god, that’s depressing lol) using something, it probably makes sense to invest in something that will be comfortable and supportive to the old meat bag. I’m just not there yet.

Listening:

The most recent Hardcore History, HH 69* – The Twilight of the Aesir.

*Nice.

And Kirby:

I shared this on Instagram, but am also going to put it here, because 1) he’s just so darn cute, and 2) to illustrate why his nickname is Kirby Roo.

Warm Nights, Chill Vibes

Programming note: after this week’s edition, josh bales [dot] net will be out of office for the remainder of April, returning on May 7. My aim is to be off-screen as much as possible during our retreat to the Florida panhandle, but there will no doubt be some posting on Instagram. So if you want to see pictures of my dog and the ocean, feel to follow along there.


In Dayton this weekend to see comrades both old and new.

The new comrade – like two-weeks-old new – I was honored to hold for several hours yesterday, something less awkward for me now than it would have been a few years ago, before I became accustomed to holding a geriatric dachshund in the same manner. Then dinner at Salar last night, several perfect hours spent on their back patio, the air warm but the vibe chill, with many drinks and foods consumed.

Today we see a few more people, including attending a birthday fête for Sarah.

I have adjusted to being a Columboner for the most part and generally enjoy it, though it’s always wonderful coming back home to Dayton, a city I love and where (most of) my people are.

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

Reading:

I don’t often give up on books, but I am with THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS. As much as I liked LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, its sequel is just not working for me. Once upon a time, I would have felt guilty about setting a book aside. Now, though, my philosophy is that life is too short to power through something I am not enjoying.

…I feel like this should apply to more than just books.

Watching:

Uh, nothing this week. I’m not even sure I turned the TV on. Oh, wait! I watched DREDD the other night. I wanted something short and delightfully violent, and DREDD was streaming. It’s a terse, fun film. I’m bummed they never got to make more of these.

Wanting:

To bleach my hair platinum blonde. Something like this. I’ve been wanting to properly do it for years, ever since I sort of did it fifteen years ago and it turned out mostly orange. My grandma had dark hair, and when it began to gray, she went blonde. So, to my haters, I say: if it was good enough for Grandma Millie, it’s good enough for me.

Listening:

The sun has been out in full force and the weather warm, which for some reason correlates to wanting to listen to punk records. One such record I’ve replayed several times this week is Screeching Weasel’s EMO. I know this is not every Weasel fan’s favorite record, but it’s one of mine. It’s earnest in a way that feels authentic, while also being hella catchy. This one doesn’t have a bad song, but “Passion” and “Last Night” are two of my favorite tracks.

Their cover of the Cranberries’ “Linger” is also fantastic, but, alas, it’s not on Bandcamp.

And Kirby:

Enjoying that wagon life.

Plus a bonus! Molly:

This picture of Molly came up in one of Jess’s memory things, and I had to share it. She could somehow make even the bitchiest of resting bitch faces look sweet. I miss her.

Post-The-Rona

The weather here in Columbus, Ohio is currently engulfed in a civil war. One side is fighting for all things sunny and flirty and beautiful; the other is hell-bent on thunderstorms and gloom, which has a beauty all its own.

Which side will win? It doesn’t matter.

Our household is slowly coming down from our brief experimentation with Covid. Both Jess and I are largely feeling much better. I’m still experiencing some general fatigue, and have a persistent headache and some body aches, but it’s been manageable and I was able to work most of the week. If we had to get Covid – and let’s be real, we were bound to get it eventually – I’m grateful that it was now, three years after the rona first reared its ugly virus face. Now, after we’ve been vaccinated and boosted, and things like antivirals exist and, in this country at least, are readily accessible. Paxlovid can be a bit of a motherfucker while you’re on it, but its efficacy at reducing the length and severity of Covid, as well as lowering the risk of experiencing long Covid health issues, has made it, to me, worth it.

All told, the last two weeks could have been a lot worse.

ADDENDUM: I wrote the majority of this post on Saturday morning, which apparently was interpreted by the universe as me giving it the finger. Because on Saturday night, Jess developed what is colloquially referred to as “rebound Covid.” Apparently, in 4% of people, five days of Paxlovid isn’t a sufficient length of time, and their Covid symptoms return. In theory, those symptoms are supposed to be mild, but we shall see. In the meantime, our household shall live with the fog of Covid a little while longer. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It be like that sometimes.

Here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of weeks.

I finally finished THE GLASS HOTEL, by Emily St. John Mandel. This is the second novel I’ve read by Mandel, after SEA OF TRANQUILITY, and I can quite honestly say she has become one of my top five favorite authors. THE GLASS HOTEL is set before, during, and after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. A key plot element involves a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme collapsing, and those both involved in and impacted by it, but that’s not the main point of the story. The narrative is not linear, continually jumping all over the timeline and switching points of view. It’s occasionally jarring, but by design. This could be annoying and confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but Mandel is the opposite of a lesser writer. A subtle feeling of the surreal threads throughout the book, especially in the last seventy pages, which gives it a dream-like quality that just enhances the story. Mandel’s writing is gorgeous and haunting, sharply funny at times, and very easy to get lost in.

Watching:

BONE TOMAHAWK: A gritty, character-driven Western for the first hour that turns into a brutal horror movie for the second hour. It’s really good, but some of the more horrific scenes are hard to watch. Kudos to the sound design team, though – while you might be able to close your eyes, you can still hear everything, in vivid, squelchy fashion.

DO REVENGE: A darkly funny teen/revenge film loosely inspired by STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and every teen comedy you’ve seen from the past 30 years. This makes for a hilarious and chaotic viewing experience. I loved loved loved this film. And it boasts a killer soundtrack, to boot.

Wanting:

I’ve long admired the work of Belgian artist Sammy Slabbinck. One of his more recent pieces, THE EQUATION, is quite stunning and will one day find a home on my wall.

Listening:

I was out somewhere a while back and heard a song that I vaguely remembered from my youth. Didn’t know the band or song title, only that it was from the 90s and had the line “I only wanna do bad things to you.” I googled it and all the results were for some shitty Machine Gun Kelly song. It took a ridiculous amount of detective work (10 minutes on Google and Wikipedia), but I eventually found the song I was looking for. Turns out the actual lyrics are “I never mean to do bad things to you,” and my brain had just misremembered them. In short, the shitty MGK song included interpolated lyrics from the 90s song I was thinking of, which is what was confounding my google search. Apparently, both my brain and the songwriters of the shitty MGK song had independently arrived at the somewhat hornier lyrics of “I only wanna do bad things to you.”

Anyhow, that’s my long-winded way of saying I’ve had Fastball’s “Out Of My Head” stuck in my head for a while.

And Kirby:

While Jess and I may have not felt great the last two weeks, Kirby has been having a marvelous time being connected to his mom’s hip even more so than usual.

Forty-One

The 11th of March marked the terminus of my 41st revolution around the Sun, and the beginning of my 42nd. That’s an extremely cool and in no way dorky way of saying I turned 41 yesterday.

I started the day off with a very large cinnamon roll for breakfast — made even better because it was a “yesterday’s cinnamon roll” from Kittie’s and only cost a dollar. Spent the majority of the day hanging out with Jess and Kirby. Then last night we were invited by friends to a fundraising dinner for Niche Seekers, a newer non-profit with a really cool mission. The cause was good, the company great, the drinks very strong, and the food very elegantly delicious. There was even a mashed potato bar!

Purple potatoes: Tasty treat or a key element in the secret Eucharist rite recognizing Grimace?

And of course, we had to take the obligatory selfie as proof that we really do leave the house and do stuff sometimes.

(Quick aside: While we were taking the below photo, I realized I now only own one nice shirt that can be tucked into pants. I wore it for my Cincinnati Dinner Train birthday shindig last year, then again for a funeral last October, and now last night. The in-office to remote wardrobe evolution is real, y’all.)

I’m happy and smiling, I promise.

To cap this birthday week off, later today we’re going to get Mexican, where I may or may not drink a margarita the size of my head. All in all, it’s been a fine way to begin this next year.

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

Reading:

Working my way through THE GLASS HOTEL. It’s quite good, but this week’s been busy with other stuff, and I just haven’t been in the mood to read as much.

A fascinating look at Arnold Schwarzenegger at age 75.

Watching:

THE INVISIBLE MAN. This was so hard to watch. Two hours of watching this poor woman be gaslit and emotionally tortured by her “dead” but invisible ex, an abusive piece of shit of the highest caliber. Murder really should be legal sometimes.

Watching INFINITY POOL was just me saying variations of “what the actual fuck?” over and over again for two hours.

Wanting Acquired:

My current media center is eight or nine years old, and has been a solid comrade during that time. But it’s old, tired. Its OS is no longer supported. It periodically can’t find one of its hard drives (I can relate). It’s time for it to retire and move to Arizona, where it will spend its golden years living on a commune with other retired computers, growing apricots and weed, and making hemp bracelets to sell at the farmer’s market.

I’ve backfilled its position (har har) with a Synology NAS (networked-attached storage) and an 8 TB hard drive, which, paired with Plex Media Server software, essentially create a compact, powerful media server connected to my network and that can stream to any device in the house. I was wary about setting it up — it seemed like it was a bit above my weight class, but it was ludicrously easy to set up. Took less than an hour. Now I begin the arduous task of converting my physical movie/tv collection into digital, because I doubt I’ll ever want a wall of Blu-rays in my house ever again.

Listening:

The new Miley album dropped Friday. I’ve listened to it once so far. It’s no BANGERZ, or even YOUNGER NOW, but I dig the vibe.

And Kirby:

Kirby and the neighbor boy, Alfredo, saying hi. Right after I took this photo, Kirby marked his territory on the fence line. And right after that, Alfredo marked his territory in the same spot, but he is so much taller that his golden arch of urine landed on Kirby. And after that, Alfredo did that instinctual, ground-kicking thing dogs do, and kicked a few pieces of mulch onto Kirby’s head. Alfredo is the sweetest boy, I think he just doesn’t know what to do with a tiny, blind, old man of a dog. Kirby was over the whole experience, and I nearly expired from laughing so hard.

In German, San Diego Means

I flew home from San Diego this past Tuesday. It was a smooth and easy travel day, especially in comparison to my outbound trip the week before, which was full of things like bad weather! canceled flights! unscheduled stops in Phoenix for fuel! dropped pretzel bites from Auntie Anne’s! In the end, the important thing is I did make it there and back again. The rest of this week has been about easing my way back into the real world. Coming home to Jess and Kirby helps.

This was my first time in San Diego since 2019. Up til that point, I had been at least once a year since 2012. I was scheduled to make my annual jaunt on March 19, 2020 — flights were booked, plans were made — but that didn’t happen for reasons that rhyme with “bran gimmick.” 2021 and 2022 were also clustercusses of a year, so I didn’t go then either. This year, I was determined to go even if it meant shipping my dead body in a pine box by cargo train, like some kind of Midwest, knock-off brand Dracula. Rail freight transport ain’t cheap, so thankfully that scenario didn’t prove necessary.

Being back in San Diego felt good, like a power-up to the soul. The weather wasn’t what one typically associates with Southern California. It rained several days — one inch on Saturday — and was generally chilly. There was one pleasant day when I was able to feel the sun on my face. None of that really mattered, though. I don’t go to San Diego for the climate. I go there to see one of my favorite humans in the world. So long as that happens, the location, while lovely, is irrelevant.

This time ‘round, I watched a bunch of movies, dined at Jeune et Jolie, my first time at a Michelin star restaurant (my closest encounter with one previously was Gabriel’s restaurant in EMILY IN PARIS), saw COCAINE BEAR, played a Buffyesque version of D&D — my drop-in character, essentially a guest star of the week, was a lockpicking cheerleader named Sheena — got a Thai massage, watched more movies, and generally just hung out.

It was a goddamned delightful time. I can’t wait to return next year.

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

Reading:

I didn’t read for most of the trip, then read Jane Pek’s THE VERIFIERS in basically one day. I love detective fiction, especially when someone has a clever take on it, which Pek definitely does. THE VERIFIERS is set in the world of the dating app industry, and the protagonist, Claudia Lin, is a detective of sorts for an agency that folks hire to verify the identities of people they’re dating. It’s a fun concept, but what really makes the book stand out is Claudia’s family. They’re complicated, funny, and feel very real. I enjoyed the bits with them just as much as the overarching “mystery.”

AI is magic, but the bullshit kind.

Watching:

COCAINE BEAR is everything you could want from a movie called COCAINE BEAR. Even better, the characters are generally well-drawn and interesting, which is unheard of for most horror movies. Also, the kids actually talk and act like real kids.

I watched BEVERLY HILLS COP on the outbound flight to San Diego. It had been years since I’d seen it, but I was confident it was a safe bet to watch on a plane, and if there were anything too risqué, then Delta would surely edit it out. Reader, there was and they did not. There’s a whole scene in a strip club that I had 100% forgotten about. The uncomfortable experience of watching this five-minute scene, full of shots of topless women with big 80’s hair dancing badly, was shared with the sweet old lady seated next to me, who in theory was watching THE BIG BANG THEORY, but was also definitely glancing at my screen.

THE MENU: holy shit was this good. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this, and I mean that in the best way possible. We watched this after dinner at Jeune et Jolie, so I was able to better appreciate things like the amuse-bouche.

Wanting:

A new computer chair. Mine is ten years old and has been steadily sloughing off its skin for the last six months. Considering I spend at least 8-10 hours a day in it, it’s time for it to go live on a nice farm upstate with other aging computer chairs. I’d like to get one that is more ergonomic, and also not shedding. I have no idea what to look for in a chair, beyond not shedding and [waves hand vaguely] “ergonomic.” I am open to suggestions.

Listening:

“Thunderclouds”: What a chill, lovely, catchy song. (Yes, I realize it came out like five years ago. I don’t care. Shut up.) This week I watched its music video, which operates on an entirely different level, for the first time and under ideal conditions. Hypnotic, beautiful.

And Kirby:

Patiently waiting for his dinner. Photo by Jess.

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.