Watching The Planets

We broke our unplanned summer hermithood not just once, but twice this week. On Thursday night we took part in what was billed as the World’s Largest Sound Bath and City-Wide Meditation — an hour of lying on yoga mats and blankets in the grass at Columbus Commons with a thousand other people, as we were bathed in waves of sound coming from an array of instruments. Some folks referred to this as an “ocean of harmony.”

Sound baths are purported to have some therapeutic effects, helping with stress, fatigue, and depression. I’d never heard of a sound bath before Thursday. After experiencing one, I am not fully sold on their curative powers. That said, was it peaceful to lie under a blanket, the sky overhead all big and black pierced only by the occasional star and aircraft running light, while ambient music was blasted at me? Absolutely.

Then on Friday, we went to another symphony, this one of the more traditional variety: Gustav Holst’s THE PLANETS, performed by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

So many people — myself included — think “classical music” and picture these dry, fusty chamber pieces made by long-dead white dudes wearing powdered wigs. You know, music that’s really great to fall asleep to. Well, Holst was a white dude and he has been dead for nearly a century, but, to the best of my knowledge, he never wore a powdered wig, and THE PLANETS has a frisson running through it that is anything but sleep-inducing. You listen to it and understand where generations of sci-fi film composers have drawn at least some inspiration.

“Mars, The Bringer of War” is a banger, thunderous and ferocious, and is easy to love. It’s my favorite suite, but “Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity” is a very close second. “Jupiter” feels less like an army is on its way to crush you, see you driven, etc., and more like you’re an adventurer off on some kind of star tr — uh, expedition.

My introduction to THE PLANETS was, of all things, an early episode of THE VENTURE BROS. Henchmen 21 and 24 sing “Mars, The Bringer of War” while they prepare to resume their henching jobs. It’s a funny scene and I was quite taken with “Mars,” so I downloaded a copy of THE PLANETS and gave it a listen. I’ve wanted to see it performed live ever since. I’m happy to report back to Past Josh: it was as cool as we’d always hoped it would be.

A visual tour of the Solar System, created by NASA, played above the orchestra, that followed the music as Holtz took us from planet to planet. It was unexpected but really cool. Photo by Jess.

Jenny Lewis in the Land of Cleve

We spent a few days up in Cleveland this week to catch the Jenny Lewis show at the House of Blues and see friends. Got a posh Airbnb from which we could work during the day on Thursday and Friday, then went to see Jenny Lewis on Thursday night followed by a cookout on Friday night.

It was during the early days of the pandemic when I became a diehard Jenny Lewis fan. Her albums THE VOYAGER and ON THE LINE got me through many a day spent driving to and from vet appointments and waiting in my car in vet clinic parking lots and not thinking about dogs dying inside vet clinics. I’m not sure why I connected so hard with her music, then, but I did, and I am grateful for it.

So it’s no small thing when I say that finally seeing Lewis perform live was a sublime experience – one every bit as good as I knew it would be.

Hold tight now – crappy iPhone show photos incoming:

Jenny Lewis and the band playing on stage.
Jenny Lewis on stage singing, in profile, pointing into the distance.

READING: TRUE GRIT, Charles Portis

LAST WATCHED: One of my low-key goals is to watch every film and TV adaptation of John le Carré’s novels. Last night’s viewing was THE RUSSIA HOUSE, a spy film set in Russia during Glasnost, with Sir Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer playing the leads. It was good, if a bit uneven at times, though it was fun seeing Connery in a spy film playing a very non-James-Bond-like character.

LISTENING: Outside of Jenny Lewis, “I Hope Your Husband Dies” by Amigo the Devil has been stuck in my head.

KIRBY: Not caring that drinking this stuff might stunt his growth (it’s a joke, there’s no coffee in that mug (it’s actually vodka) (also a joke)).

Kirby with his snoot buried into a Luke's Cafe coffee mug, trying to lap up the last vestiges of milk.

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.

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.

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.

Haiku and China Buffets

Let’s mix things up a bit this week, and allow me to demonstrate my magnificent versatility as a writer. Here is a haiku. One inspired by true events.

leave the cabaret
happy drunks ambling, seeking
the China Buffet

Yes, I know haiku aren’t supposed to rhyme. No, I don’t care. When we know the rules, we are allowed to break them.

(I don’t actually know the rules, but I also dgaf.)

The China Buffet in question.

I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu writing this (again) this week, buuut: we are finally getting over our Covid (again) up in here. (Yeah, I ended up developing the rebound bullshit, too.) Our rona woes have become trop chiant to write about, thought, so let’s move on.

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

Reading:

This week, I started THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS, by Matt Ruff. It’s the follow-up to the excellent LOVECRAFT COUNTRY.

“The Revolution Against Shady Landlords Has Begun”:  Molly Crabapple’s new cover story for THE NATION details the fight against shady landlords being waged by New York tenants and housing advocates. (You can use 12ft Ladder to bypass the paywall.)

Watching:

OUTER BANKS, season 3:  I don’t quite hate-watch this show like I do Emily in Paris, but the teenage characters make all kinds of idiotic decisions and are constantly shouting at each other, which I find stressful. There’s also a new adult protagonist whom I loathed, and every episode I kept thinking, “Maybe this will be the episode he dies.” That said, this was still the best season of OUTER BANKS yet, and the treasure hunting storyline that had been building for three seasons concluded in a truly satisfying manner.

EUPHORIA:  Jesus Christ, this show is intense. It reminds me exactly of my high school days, except with more drugs, sex, and violence. I dug the first season a lot, but wasn’t quite ready to jump into the second season. I need a little break from teen angst.

Wanting:

I want this Casio G-SHOCK Men’s A1000 Watch Pink Rainbow Vintage so, so badly.

Listening:

Jenny Lewis announced this week that her fifth solo album, JOY’ALL, comes out in June. She also dropped a new single from it: “Psychos.”

We are seeing Ms. Lewis perform this summer at the House of Blues in Cleveland, and I couldn’t be more stoked.

And Kirby:

Enjoying the sun on his face.

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.

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.

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).