Saturday, August 19, 2006

Comments for Some! Miniature American Flags for Others!

Fosco just realized that he had limited the "Comment" option to members of Blogger only. Oops. As with his sexuality, Fosco is against arbitrary restrictions, and he has now set it so that anyone can comment.

(The hands you see here belong to my personal assistant, Geoffrey. Aren't they smooth? We get mani/pedis together.)

Commence comments, non-Blogger-members!

I remain,

Friday, August 18, 2006

California Semantics: A Plea for Linguistic Specificity

Whenever you move to a new city (or a new area of the country), part of the adjustment is learning the vocabulary of everyday life in that region. I've been a resident of California for almost a month now, and I'm starting to notice the words and names that will be necessary for me to function here (although I haven't yet managed to employ most of them convincingly).

Here are several examples of Santa Cruz words that are used rarely in other places I've lived:

  • pelagic: Of, relating to, or living in open oceans or seas rather than waters adjacent to land or inland waters (as in birds). You don't have to be a birder to run across this adjective in regular reading here on the coast.
  • tri-tip: A beef tri-tip roast is a boneless cut of meat from the bottom sirloin. It also is called "triangular" roast because of its shape. According to the Oregon Beef Council: "this flavorful beef cut has been one of the beef industry's best kept secrets."
  • freeway: It turns out that the "freeway" is actually just a... highway!

And, of course, as I live only a mile or so from Pleasure Point, I am having to adjust to surfing terms as well. This is particularly difficult, since I still don't understand what a "Point Break" is (but it does make me think of Keanu, so that's not too bad).

But then there are two terms that are causing me some problems: "The Valley" and "The Bay Area."
  • The Valley: I have heard this used to refer to 1. the Central (i.e. San Joaquin) Valley (home of Sacramento, Fresno, grody things) and 2. Silicon Valley (just over the mountain from Santa Cruz--containing San Jose among other things).
  • The Bay Area: I always thought this meant 1. The San Francisco Bay Area (homosexual paradise!), but I have recently heard it used in Santa Cruz to mean 2. The Monterey Bay Area (sea lion paradise!).

I have a hard time with this kind of vagueness, especially since I am still too new to the area to fully appreciate the context clues (e.g., which "Valley" is Milpitas in?).

Could we agree on a solution? What if we called the Monterey Bay Area the "MoBay"? And what if we called Silicon Valley, well, "Silicon Valley"? Can we do this, people? Please?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Butterfly in the sky...

I've been tagged by my blogopal Ted at The Gideonse Bible to join in the meme-a-go-round that is the following survey. I like this survey so much that I'll let the Fosco persona recede a little (otherwise it would all be so... meta) and offer some answers...

1. One book you have read more than once:

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. I read this book at least once a year. It is extremely short and entirely brilliant. I actually find my attraction to this novel to be somewhat peculiar as I've never read any poetry by Novalis and don't really care about German literature. And yet, this novel very gently produces in me a whole range of delicate and specific emotions. This is a very strange novel and a very beautiful one.

2. One book you would want on a desert island:

If I were going to be there a while, I would need an extremely well-constructed text--a work full of games, wordplay, codes, and jokes. At the same time, I would want this novel to be emotionally convincing. Of course, I am talking about Lolita--the annotated version would be preferable...

Although, wouldn't it be fun to be stranded with only Robinson Crusoe?

3. One book that made you laugh:

Since I don't want to turn this list into the Lolita show, I'll choose something else. The book that I most recently read aloud sections in order to elicit laughter from friends/lovers is Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category. I still regularly quote from the list of Cancelled Regional Morning TV Shows.

4. One book that made you cry:

Several books have made me tear up, especially when it comes to the the final pages: Lolita (aurochs and angels... sigh), A Tale of Two Cities (so beloved that it is currently hanging over my desk), or Villette (by far the best Bronte novel).

But when it comes to full-on bawling, there is one literary work that does it to me like no other: the Truman Capote short story, "A Christmas Memory." Why? I'm not sure. I don't think it's a particularly great story (and I don't care that much for Capote generally); however, it just manages to push all of my sentimental buttons. Actually, it's pretty manipulative. But I still cry every time I read it.

5. One book you wish you had written:

Once again, bracketing Lolita, I would love to have written Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. In my opinion, it's Pynchon's best work, but it's generally underrated (and under-read)--probably because of it's length and difficulty. But don't be discouraged--once you habituate to the dialect and orthography, the novel is extremely funny and moving.

6. One book you wish had never been written:

The correct answer, by far, is The Bible; however, it's not a very interesting answer. So I'll change the rules a bit and go with two books that I wish had never been written. In which the case, the answer is 1. The Bible and 2. The Lord of the Rings. (I guess I'm bending the rules a bit more by including a trilogy...). Now while it is true that Lord of the Rings isn't responsible for as much evil as is the Bible, it is responsible (entirely or in large part) for other execrable things, such as:

I also see the LotR as a symptom of a larger problem in American culture--the fact that most college-educated adults (based on their preferences listed on MySpace, Friendster, personal ads, etc.) identify as their favorite books novels that were written for thirteen-year-olds. Think about it: Lord of the Rings, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harry Potter, The Princess Bride. Have any of these college-educated adults read a novel since junior high?

Which is not to say that some of these books aren't quite good. I enjoy reading each installment of Harry Potter. And should I ever have a precocious niece, I plan to gift her "To Kill A Mockingbird." I even think LotR can be an enjoyable read for a weekend when you want to feel like a kid again (just skip the damn poetry). But come on people, hasn't your worldview gotten a little more complex since you read those books?

7. One book you are currently reading:

I'll bracket school-related books (like The Politics and Poetics of Transgression or Apartment Stories) and admit that I am currently stalled in the middle of Christopher Sorrentino's National Book Award Finalist Trance.

8. One book you've been meaning to read:

Dare I admit that I haven't read... Ulysses?

9. One book that changed your life:

The novel Middlemarch is a very beautiful, very moving essay in the ethical obligations that we have toward other people and how moral imagination can be used to improve our world in very small ways.

10: Now tag 5 bloggers: Todd, T. C., Article III Groupie, Jenny, and, uh... someone else.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Five Observations/Meditations on IKEA

Over the last two weeks, I have driven to the IKEA in East Palo Alto six times (86 miles, round-trip). These are my thoughts.

1. IKEA is a bonanza for people (like me) who enjoy coming up with new nicknames for friends and family. Whenever I go there with my sister, our conversation quickly degenerates into name-calling based on the ridiculous IKEA product names. It goes something like this:

ME: "What do you think of this table, BRATTBY?"
MY SISTER: "You're the BRATTBY."
ME: "No, you are. BRATTBY."
MY SISTER: "Well, then you're a JOKKMOKK."
ME: "No, you are."

2. The combined weight of the faux-Scandinavian product names is so great that by the "Marketplace" section of the store, I find myself, totally unconsciuosly, saying "ja" instead of "yes."

3. In Fight Club, Edward Norton's character orders, from a store called "Furni," an Erika Pekkari dust ruffle. I always thought this was a funny line. Imagine my surprise to find an Erika Pekkari sheet set at IKEA last week--it turns out that she really exists!

She also finds that scene to be funny. Yay for Erika Pekkari!

4. IKEA offers a line of coffee tables called LACK.

As an occasional reader of Lacan, I find this product name to be hilarious. As Terry Eagleton glosses Lacan on desire: "All desire springs from a lack, which it strives continually to fill." Basically, the root of all desire (and of language, interestingly enough) is lack. Or, the way I like to think about it, LACK.

If I designed a coffee table, I would call it objet petit a.

5. IKEA online offers help to customers in the form of a "chatbot" named Anna. In my experience, she is totally unhelpful. I thought I would tell her this. This is how our conversation went:

ME: "You are unhelpful."
ANNA: "You are perfectly entitled to hold any opinion you want about me. Furthermore, your comments improve my knowledge base. Thank you!"

Those Swedes--even their chatbots have equanimity.

Chapter 34: In which Fosco laments his bachelorhood.

In the ongoing narrative that is Fosco's life, it is time to take a brief hiatus from the adventures to allow Fosco to reflect on his civil (i.e., marital) status.

As a devoted former student of the Queen of Singles Research, Fosco is surprised to find himself occasionally pining for a regular romantic presence in his life. True, he has the companionship of his loyal personal assistant Geoffrey. And, as the regular reader of this blog can attest, Fosco is no enemy of casual sexual relations (even in trees!). However, every once and a while, Fosco would like to be able to post a video of his own adorable queer wedding.

Last week, Fosco's marital wistfulness was in strange and full effect, just in time for the visit from the Cable Guy. (No, not this one. Nor this one--although I must admit that I'm curious about how he can be both a cable guy and a health inspector. Does the man never sleep?) No, the Cable Guy that Fosco speaks of was just an ordinary example of Comcast's Finest--although quite hunky in a tall and lanky way. On that morning, Fosco found himself swooning over "Scott" and wondering what it might be like to... be married to someone like "Scott"! Where would we live? What would we watch on TV? Would he let me decorate? In Fosco's imagination, it actually seemed like a pretty good relationship.

Fosco doesn't even know if "Scott" is gay (especially given Fosco's new system), but that's probably irrelevant anyway--the existence of the fantasy is what's important here. What does this mean? Does Fosco really want a hubby? Or has he been reading too many Jane Austen novels?

Does This Make You Uncomfortable, Too?

So I needed some tech support for a Dell computer (not mine, thank goodness--Fosco is a Mac user), and I found myself engaging in an online "chat" session with a Dell customer support representative named Shilpa. I know that Dell farms out most of its customer support to other countries (like India), and, as a good progressive liberal who doesn't understand anything about economics, I'm don't know how to feel about that.

But I do know that I was uncomfortable when Shilpa (at the end of a very helpful session--hats off to you, Shilpa!) responded to my thanks with "It is my duty to serve you."

Whoa. It's like most people's customer service fantasy come true, and it turns out to be EXTREMELY CREEPY.

Is it wrong for me to prefer the surly baristas at my local coffee shop? Does this make me a masochist? Or a good liberal?

Gaydar Malfunction