The Worst

Went out for a drink with our friend Nate (aka Nate Dogg, aka Natrone) and a bunch of his friends at the Park Tavern, which is just a few blocks from our house.

At one point, one of our party ordered another drink. The waitress asks someone else at the table, who was halfway through with her own beverage, if she wanted another, too. She declined. At this point, the waitress says, "Just so you guys know, the bar is all the way over on the other side of the room, and its' really annoying if I have to go all the way over there to get a drink and bring it back to the table and then someone else orders a drink, so if you want another, you should order it right now." After a slight pause during which I believe pretty much everyone at the table is thinking, "Holy fuck, did she really just say that?", the girl who was the subject of the waitress's tirade says, "No, I'm good, really."

Hey, I've worked as a server for several years, and there's no doubt, it's annoying as hell to have a table run you like that and ask for something new every time you come back. I'm pretty sure, though, that as a server you're not really allowed to lecture your tables about it.

A few minutes later, another server drops off a plate of cheese enchiladas, which were supposed to be chicken enchiladas. When our waitress returns, the girl whose plate it is says, "I'm sorry, but I was supposed to get chicken enchiladas and these are cheese, and I just don't really want to eat this much cheese." The waitress says, "I could have sworn you said cheese. Here's my solution: I'll take your plate back to the kitchen and have them throw some grilled chicken on top. Or, if you waaaant," dramatic pause after the over-emphasized waaaant to make sure the implied to make me do more fucking work is quite clear, "I can void this order and put in a new order for chicken enchiladas. Those are your options." The recipient of the botched order invents an entirely new, third option, and declines to eat any enchiladas at all, and as a group our solution is to pay up and go to an entirely different bar where the service isn't abysmal.

The waitress brings the tab and says, "Please don't tip me, you're obviously not happy with something, so I'm sorry." What she means is, of course, "You're mad at me for some reason and I don't know why, so fuck you, but I'm sorry, I guess, because my manager would want me to be." One of our party says to her, "We've been coming here for eight years, and no one has ever treated us this rudely." The waitress drives it all home by replying, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Not, "I'm sorry," but "I'm sorry you feel that way." Yeesh.

This is, if not the worst service I've ever encountered in a bar or restaurant, easily in the all-time top five.

Nerds on Parade

I love comic books.

Surprised? No, of course not.

In spite of being more grown-up these days and not really caring all that much about the latest issue of The Flash or Iron Man, in spite of occaisionally bitching about their over-riding presence in the comics medium, I really do still love super-heroes, too. If presented with the opportunity, I wouldn't disdain to read the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, X-Men, Superman or any of the others I loved beyond reason when I was fourteen. I like Scott McCloud's analogy from Reinventing Comics: Super-heroes are like chocolate pie with whipped cream topping and Oreo cookie crust. Delicious, but do you want to live on a diet of chocolate pie with whipped cream topping and Oreo cookie crust for the rest of your life?

Anyway...yeah, I'm a big nerd. I love super-heroes, I love Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I love Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, I mourn the premature demise of Firefly like a good nerd should.

But I don't dress up in costumes, except maybe at Halloween. And the truth is, most nerds don't. Look atwebc artoonist Paul Taylor's report and photos from the San Diego Comic Con, especially at the photos of the fans who stopped by his booth which are near the bottom of the page. Only a few costumes in the bunch, and none more elaborate than what you'd see on an average weekend at your local RenFaire.

When the press covers Comic Con, they focus on the costumes. I suppose this is because there's not much else to cover about a giant gathering of nerds. "They gather, they wait in line for hours for sketches and autographs from their favorite creators, they play nerdy games, they spend horrifying sums of money on collectible action figures and such, they dig through quarter bins to find that last issue of West Coast Avengers they need to complete their collection, and most of them dress in T-shirts and shorts."

I understand why they focus on the costumes. They're interesting and often very cool. But it's sort of like doing a story about a Denver Broncos game and focusing entirely on the Barrel Man and the Leprechaun and this guy, while completely ignoring the fact that there's 76,000 other people there who aren't dressed in silly outfits.

The problem is that the whole thing is really a non-story, at least outside the city of San Diego and the comic book world. Stories on websites and in newspapers accompanied by pictures are an easy way to get a few "Look at the freaks!" laughs. The Burning Man freaks are every bit as freakish, in fact probably (read: almost certainly) moreso - but it's a lot harder to send a photographer to the Nevada desert than to send one to the San Diego Convention Center.

It just irks me that even as comic books are only just starting to win acceptance as a legitimate narrative medium as worthy of creative effort and scholarly discussion as prose, theater or cinema, the media is still taking cheap shots and making the entire comic-book-reading population out to be nothing but freaks and weirdos who live in their parents' basements and spend every last dime they make on homemade Stormtrooper uniforms.

Fish Are Jumpin and th' Cotton is High

Emily's favorite season is Spring. Me, I like the summer. One of the first mix CDs I ever made when I first got a computer with a CD burner was called "Sweaty Ass Crack Blues," and though the title is, I'll admit, somewhat unappealing, the CD remains one of my favorite mixes, full of goofy fun and nice, lazy summery music.

Above all, my love of the summertime is probably a holdover from my miserable school daze. Not being in school, spending the whole day drinking Dr. Pepper, eating junk food and playing "Police Quest" delightfully lazy. Getting to go to the comic book store on Wednesday, as soon as the new comics were in, instead of waiting for the weekend like I had to do during the school year was a big plus, too. Epic, days-long Dungeons & Dragons sesssions with my friends, hours and hours at the pool, trips to Denver for the heady delights of WaterWorld and Elitch's (back in the days when it was fucking Elitch's, man, not Six Flags Elitch Gardens). It's hard to believe now how much I complained about it at the time - how bad can life be when the most pressing concern you've got is making sure the lawn gets mowed sometime this week?

Sadly, I can't be such a lollygagger these days. Still, I love summer. The pleasures of summertime are often a little more adult in nature now - cold beer and good cigars among them. Best of all, I'd say, is the food. The Olathe sweet corn is starting to arrive at the grocery store and the farmer's markets - and it's the best corn you'll ever have, if you have it. The Rocky Ford cantaloupe will be arriving soon, and it's quite fine, too. We're getting peaches and cherries from Pallisade - the best peaches you'll find outside of Georgia and the finest cherries to be had outside the Pacific Northwest. Our own tomatoes, peppers and herbs are growing like mad - if you come visit in the late summer or early fall, you're likely to be repasted with home-grown salsa and pasta sauce. You, lucky reader, just might be getting a jar or two for Xmas, whether you come to visit or not.

Once or twice a week I fire up my little tabletop grill - though I'm still learning the mysterious ways of charcoal, having learned the art of grilling with my Dad's fancy gas model. Still, there's no better way to cook wild salmon, one of the other culinary delights available in the summer months. And if you can't grill burgers (even if they are just turkey burgers thanks to Emily's aversion to red meat), what's the point, really?

Yeah, the weather's hot. Sometimes too hot. We were hitting triple digits here in Denver last week, and it was just brutal. But I'll take too hot over too cold every day of the week and twice on Sunday. 100's are rare around here - a typical summer day is about 90 degrees, which is just perfect when the humidity is low, as it almost always is.

I like all the seasons. I don't get grim-faced and moody like my Dad does just because of a light snow flurry. I like the cycle of the year. But when you're in the midst of the summer, everything just feels right. The livin', as they say, is easy.

Kickin' it Dracula-style

It's 2:30 in the goddam morning and I'm reading about insomnia on WebMD. Not because I think it'll help, but because it's 2:30 in the morning, Emily's asleep, the cats are asleep, the whole city of Denver is asleep...except for me. I'm wide awake and bored as fuck. I don't expect that everyone's favorite internet-based substitute for actually going to a doctor will really cure me of my sleeplessness, I'm just curious about what it has to say on the subject.

It happens from time to time, once every couple of months or so. Sometimes Emily wakes up, shuffles sleepily out to the living room, where I sit so I can read or surf the internets without disturbing her, and asks what I'm doing. Some nights, she sleeps soundly, oblivious to my opposite state. I don't really know why it happens. I eat pretty well, I get a fair amount of exercise, I don't do any of the things you're not supposed to do. But now and then, I lay in bed for an hour or so after turning out the light and have to force myself even to close my eyes.

Tonight it's hot - no surprise there - which is certainly not helpful. My lower intestine is...well, let's just say it's in one of its less co-operative moods and leave it at that. The Intensely Bright Security Light From Hell on the neighbor's wall flickers on and off, seemingly at random, shining its forty-thousand lumens right into our bedroom window. I hate that fucking thing like Star Jones hates Baba Wawa. And, much like those catty daytime chat divas, I suspect that the feeling is mutual, and the Intensely Bright Security Light From Hell hates me right back. I'd love to be able to drop the blinds, but the bedroom gets precious little daylight, and dropping the blinds would keep it too dark when the alarm goes off at 0700, making it much harder for Emily to wake up. We keep a blanket draped over the window's security bars at night, which usually keeps the IBSLFH from being too much of a problem. It just isn't doing the trick for me tonight for whatever reason, and the light's random supposedly-motion-sensor-activated flickerings are driving me crazy. Still, annoying though it may be, the bloody thing does keep the Local Businessmen and the Loyal Clientelle from plying their trade in the narrow space between the houses.

I listen to some fairly quiet thumping from the apartment upstairs, which indicates that our neighbor the bartender has gotten home from work. This means that I'm awake and alert not only well past last call, but also well past the point of, "Okay, everyone, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here." I used to be awake at this point pretty frequently, but then, that was usually accompanied by having been at a bar all night and being at least slightly drunk. Not so tonight.

Denver will never steal from New York the title of "The City That Never Sleeps." Aside from the occasional bums/drunks/crackheads staggering noisily past the front window and the even more infrequent blare of a police siren, it's almost eerily quiet. At this hour, Denver is quiet enough that one can hear the horns of the diesel trains as they blow through the railroad crossings, way up on the outskirts of town.

By now it's been nearly seven hours since dinner, and I'm hungry. I'm tempted to make a PBJ or eat some fruit, but I worry that it'll just keep me awake even longer. My eyelids are finally starting to feel just a little droopy.

With a little luck, I'll be asleep by four o'clock.

Good night, and good luck.

Don't Believe the Hype

According to the new Money magazine list, Fort Collins, CO is the #1 Best Place to Live in America. I don't in particular disagree with this. Growing up in Greeley, a thirty-minute drive away, "Ft. Fun" was the place to go to...well, do anything, as Greeley's basically just a big worthless stinkhole of a city - especially when you're in high school and you've spent one two many evenings trying to be cool at Denny's.

Anyway, Ft. Collins is a good town. Close to the mountains, good restaurants and bars, home to Colorado State University, so there's some culture and some education, there's a lively downtown area...

But, as the wise philosopher once said, don't believe the hype.

I began to have my doubts about the value of the list when I looked farther down and saw that their next highest ranking for a city in Colorado was for Westminster. Westminster is a suburb, northwest of here on the highway to Boulder. It's not the worst of the suburbs - I believe that title goes to the evocatively named Commerce City - but it's not the best, either. It's a suburb, with all the strip malls and Crapplebee's restaurants and Borders book/music/movie superstores that implies. There not much particularly wrong with Westminster, but to borrow a phrase from someone speaking of another city, there's not much there there.

It was when I clicked on "Top Ten Big Cities" that the list lost its last shreds of credibility for me. The supposed #1 Big City in America is Colorado Springs. Stepford Springs, we like to call it. Home of Focus on the Family, the Promise Keepers and a dozen other crazy-as-fuck right-wing psuedo-Christian lunatic organizations. I don't want to say that Stepford Springs is right-wing and old-fashioned, but...well, let me put it this way - when there was a huge scandal a few years back revolving around the rape of female cadets at the Air Force Academy (which also makes its home in the Springs), I think most of the Stepford Springs residents were just confused about why the Academy was even admitting womenfolk in the first place. The Springs is scary, yo. I know the Money magazine folks have some sort of so-called "scientific" formula that they use to determine these rankings, but Jeebus, man...all I can tell you is that I wouldn't live in Colorado Springs for love or money.

Go the Distance

Saw Pirates 2 this afternoon - it was pretty good. Too long by a half-hour or so, but fun.

Before the movie was a trailer for the upcoming Rocky Balboa, which I suppose is the title because Rocky VI just sounded far too ludicrous.

It looks every bit as awful as Rocky V and entirely lacking in the unintentional hilarity of Rocky IV. But I must admit that hearing "Gonna Fly Now" and crowds chanting, "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" gave me chills.

Still...Rocky VI, man. That's messed up. I just can't imagine that anyone in the American moviegoing public has said at any point in the last fifteen years, "Boy, I'd really like to see another go-round with the Italian Stallion." And Stallone's working on Rambo IV, as well. Dude must be thisclose to standing on a Hollywood street corner with a cardboard sign reading, "Will Act For Food God Bless."

What to Read When You're Over Men in Tights

I was going to respond to Eek!'s comment on my previous post in a follow-up comment, but I quickly realized it would turn to an epic-length somethingorother too long for the comments section...

Dan Clowes has done a lot more than "Ghost World," so that could be a good place to start. "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron," "20th Century Eightball" and "David Boring" are pretty widely available and considered to be among his best work.

The basic "required reading" list for anyone interested in comics with a little more meat than super-hero slugfests includes...

1. The work of the legendary Will Eisner. "A Contract With God" is generally considered the first "graphic novel," and is out in a beautiful new hardcover collection of Eisner's "Dropsie Avenue Trilogy" along with "A Life Force" and "Dropsie Avenue - The Neighborhood," all of which are well worth reading.

2. "Maus" by Art Spiegelman, which I suppose a lot of people have read these days, but if you haven't, it's an absolute must. I think most people know the basics of it, but in case you don't, it's a two-volume autobiography/biography involving the story of the author's often rocky relationship with his Holocaust-survivor father and the father's own story of living in Poland during the years leading up to World War II and the absolutely amazing story of how he survived in Auschwitz. Spiegelman's "In the Shadow of No Towers" is also notable.

3. "Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Yes, it is a super-hero story, but it's much more than that, too. It's a near-perfect synthesis of story and art, to begin with. Gibbons' page compositions and storytelling ability are staggering, all done with variations on the simple, classic 9-panel grid page layout. Moore's visionary deconstruction of the super-hero psyche (and psychoses) has influenced, in some way, pretty much every long-underwear story in the last twenty years.

"Blankets" is obviously the place to start with Craig Thompson, but his earlier "Goodbye, Chunky Rice" is excellent, as well. "Carnet de Voyage" is more informal, but is a lovely travel diary/sketchbook.

Jeff Smith's "Bone," available in the original glorious black-and-white in a monster one-volume edition or coming out now in colorized editions, is terrific if you're looking for "Lord of the Rings"-style fantasy.

"Black Hole" by Charles Burns, of which I posted a brief review here a few months back, is a terrific tale of high school alienation, though done in a more horror-movie kind of style than "Ghost World."

Frank Miller's "Sin City" books are trashy fun and gorgeous to look at (the movie, for all the hype about Robert Rodriguez's frame-by-frame film adaptation, the movie can't match the beauty of Miller's art), and his "300" is sort of a similar thing, only with the Spartan warriors at Thermopylae instead of crooks and lowlifes.

Writing vs. Art

First off, I have to say I'm almost impossibly pleased to see this interview on the Powell's website. Even five years ago, it's unlikely that even as amazing and forward-thinking a bookstore as Powell's would have posted such a lengthy interview with two cartoonists who are essentially unknown outside of non-superhero-comics-reading circles. Five years ago, maybe. Ten, not a chance. Alison Bechdel is someone whose work I'm not really familiar with, as it has in the past mostly appeared in gay-oriented publications - she draws a strip with one of the best titles I've ever heard, "Dykes to Watch Out For." Craig Thompson, on the other hand, is one of my absolute favorite cartoonists. I'm firmly convinced that twenty years from now, people will be discussing his "Blankets" in the same context as Will Eisner's "A Contract With God" and Art Spiegelman's "Maus" - works both brilliant and absorbing in their own right, as well as historic milestones of the comics form.

In the interview, Bechdel and Thompson discuss one of the most fascinating issues for "graphic novelists," that of the interplay of writing and art. Bechdel loves the writing, but finds doing the art a chore. Thompson loves the art and has trouble with the writing. What I find most fascinating about it is that both of them, in spite of disliking and/or lacking confidence about one of the medium's two disciplines, chose comics anyway. Bechdel could have writen prose. Thompson could make a very comfortable living as an illustrator. But they both chose to do comics, based on what comics can do that prose and simple illustration can't.

To do comics, if you can draw but can't write (which Thompson can), you need a collaborator. If you can write but can't draw (which Bechdel can), you need a collaborator. If you want to do it all, you have to be fairly adept in two disciplines. It's not all about drawing nice pictures, as guys like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld found when they struck out on their own in the early '90s (of course many, including myself, would dispute whether Liefeld is actually capable of drawing nice pictures). Nor is it enough to write a great story, lovely prose or clever dialogue - Neil Gaiman's "The Life of Emperor Heliogabolus" in "24-Hour Comics" demonstrates this.

Obviously, there's no obligation to do the writing and the art. Many of the greatest writers in comics don't draw - Alan Moore is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, writer in the comics field, and he doesn't draw, and with the occasional very rare exception, neither does Gaiman. Alex Ross paints absolutely breathtaking superhero work, but doesn't do much writing.

Still, recognizing how difficult each discipline is on its own makes one appreciate the rare genius who achieves the perfect synthesis of story and art; Eisner, Spiegelman, Thompson, some of Frank "The Tank" Miller's work, Jeff Smith's "Bone"...

And really, the interview mostly just made me really want to read "Fun Home."

His "S" is Showing

It's not exactly a confession for me to say I dig on superhero movies. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was almost exactly the movie I'd been wanting to see since I was seven years old and bought my first comic book, Web of Spider-Man #19. I liked the sequel even better. Sam Raimi really gets exactly what it is that makes Spidey so cool. Christopher Nolan did the same for Batman with Batman Begins; he was the first director of the Bat-franchise who understood that Batman doesn't have to be a tortured, angst-ridden weirdo (see Tim Burton's two entries) or a campy fetishwear joke (see Joel Schumacher's, or better yet, don't). Bryan Singer had a similar understanding of the X-Men. He understood the underlying mechanics that really make the concept tick and turned out two absolutely stellar X-Men movies.

Sad to say, I don't think Singer got Superman in the same way. I was really excited for this movie, from the moment I heard he was making it, and even moreso when I saw the teaser trailer earlier this year. I've always been a fan of Richard Donner's original movie, and I find Superman II ("Come, son of Jor-El! Kneel before Zod!") to be flawed but still thoroughly entertaining. As good as they are, those movies are dated and hampered by the limited special effects available at the time they were made. I was really looking forward to a Superman movie full of Superman doing really mind-blowing super-stuff, the kind they could never really show before. In the end, I have to concur with the always insightful Dave Campbell, who succintly said, "It didn't suck."

First off, we paid four bucks extra each for the IMAX 3-D experience, which was a complete waste. There was less than ten minutes of 3-D footage in a two-and-a-half hour movie. The 3-D effect is really stunning, but not worth the extra bread.

Secondly, this is one of the driest, talkiest superhero movies I've ever seen. There are exactly two sequences in the movie that are exactly what I was hoping for, Superman's initial in-costume appearance saving a doomed airplane and then foiling an over-the-top comic-book-style bank robbery a few minutes later. They are so perfectly done, so exhilerating, so spot-on with what a Superman movie really ought to be that ultimately it just made me kind of sad that the rest of the movie wasn't more like it. After that, we get well over an hour of talking and Superman and Lois Lane exchanging yearning glances before there's even a hint of action again.

It's at this point, where something actually happens again after far too much talk, that Singer and his writers make a decision that's so fundamentally boneheaded, so counter-intuitive, so contrary to the spirit of Superman, that it nearly sinks the entire film. What was up until then just a strange, slightly annoying element of the movie becomes an anchor, dragging the rest of the movie down with it. The last half-hour or so of the movie is especially notable as a mess, trying to resolve the plot and the myriad subplots with varying degrees of success.

Part of the problem is the perrennial problem with Superman - he's so powerful that no villain can really be appropriately threatening. Ultimately, Lex Luthor is an evil genius, but he's only human, but he's going up against a god. Luthor is never evil enough, never powerful enough, never more than a nuisance. That's what made Superman II so good - Superman was overmatched by three villains, all of whom had all the same powers as himself. There was drama, there was a real threat. Here, there's a bald man in a trenchcoat with the assistance of Parker Posey and the guy from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

Still, there's a fair amount to like here. Brandon Routh makes a terrific Superman, paling in comparison to Chris Reeve only because Reeve was born to play the role. Still, Routh acquits himself well, and plays the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent nicely. Kate Bosworth is not terrible. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as always, though I wish he had been more willing to ham it up like Gene Hackman did in the same role. The special effects, when they happen, are great. Metropolis looks like a real, distinct city rather than New York with a different name - the whole movie is quite beautifully designed.

In the end, though, I wanted it to be more Super than it managed to be. Not a bad movie, but nowhere near as great as it could have been.

My Brudder

Time's cover story this week is, "How your siblings make you who you are." It's a very interesting article, though it does include as apparent "news" or "revelations" things that were fairly self-evident to me, such as sibling relationships being closer than parent-child relationships.

But it did get me thinking about my relationship with my brother. I call him a hipster snob, sometimes. When talking to our parents, I sometimes refer to him as, "Your less attractive, less intelligent son." But it's all just one of my pathetic little attempts at humor. My brother is probably the coolest guy I know, and without question the most meaningful and important relationship in my life next to Emily. He's wikid smaht. He generally does have a pretty good grasp of what's cool and interesting in the wide, wide pop-cultural world - but no true self-respecting hipster would voluntarily spend two years living in Guatemala. And that's another thing worthy of mention: his nearly boundless sense of adventure never ceases to amaze me. I'm quite certain that were I given the opportunity to ride down something billing itself as "The World's Most Dangerous Road" on a rented bicycle of questionable quality, I would pass without hesitation. Not him. did my sibling make me who I am?

Well, growing up as his younger brother was tough, no doubt. Because he is so smart and so capable in academic settings, following him through high school was brutal. Teachers expected Another Him in me, and they most definitely didn't get it. After he graduated, I spent two years being asked about him by one teacher or another every couple of days. As for our parents...well, best not to get into that, really. Suffice to say I believe that they, too, were not just a little disappointed not to get Another Him. I don't doubt that they love me, and that at this point they're at least vaguely proud of me, but I do think that the disappointment lingers. None of this is his fault, of course. Just the accidental result of him being who he is.

Beyond that...

The most important thing is that I learned to draw from him. Not that he ever sat down and gave me lessons or anything, but as a wee lad, I watched him drawing and emulated him. As a kid, I was always frustrated that (in my opinion) my art was never as good as his. I don't really know how much drawing he does today, but I hope he still does at least some.

He was an asshole when we were kids, as older brothers are wont to do, teasing me until I screamed and refusing to leave my room when all I wanted was solitude. But along the way, I believe I developed a pretty thick skin and learned patience (which, I think, is one of my best qualities).

Don't get the idea that he was all bad, though. We played with our extensive collection of Star Wars toys for hours on end together, and he continued to play with me and my equally extensive collection of G.I. Joes, even after he was probably a little too old to be all that interested in it. He tolerated having an annoying little brother tagging along much better than I suppose I had any right to expect.

It was through him and his friends that I discovered the works of JRR Tolkien and role-playing games. I don't mean to disillusion those of my loyal readers who have the uber-hipster image of my brother stuck in their heads, but in junior high, he was a fairly avid gamer, pretending along with his friends to be half-elf rangers and dwarven fighters and suchlike whilst listening to the Led Zep sing the Misty Mountain Hop and Rush reminding us all that even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. He has long since given up the hobby, but I will admit without embarrasment that at nearly 30, I do still enjoy the sound of polyhedral dice rattling on a tabletop.

Heck of a guy, my brother. He hasn't lived any less than 1200 miles away from me since shortly after he graduated college. I miss having him nearby, and I hope that one day we might be able to hang out together for more than a few days out of each year.

12-down, 5 Letters, "The People in This Movie," Starts With "N"

We went to see Wordplay last night, and both enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm not a crossword fiend on the level that the people in the movie are, but I do enjoy doing the Times crossword, especially the monster Sunday puzzles.

Friends, let me tell you, I call myself a great big nerd, I call my blog "A Great Big Nerd," but I can't hold a candle to some of these folks. When Jon Stewart is the coolest cat in your movie, you know your movie is about nerds of the highest order. And for a guy who got as much tail as he reputedly did during his tenures in the Arkansas statehouse and the White House, Bill Clinton is really just a big ol' dork.

The celebrity cameos are fun and interesting, but the real stars of the show are the hard-core puzzle freaks, the contenders for the title at the National Crossword Championships. Ellen Ripstein, a past champion, has got to be one of the nerdiest women I've ever seen. Trip Payne, another past winner, gives lie to the stereotype that all gay men are fabulous fashionistas - he and his partner are both schlubby nerds, dressed in polo shirts and pleated Dockers.

I call them nerds, but you know coming from me that it's meant as a compliment. These people are really amazing. Emily and I, working together, can usually complete the Times sunday crossword, working on it on and off over the course of an afternoon. Tyler Hinman can finish the same puzzle in less than seven minutes. That's a stunning level of knowledge about diverse areas ranging from ancient history to the latest celebrity scandal rag headlines, an incredible vocabulary and a knack for puns and anagrams, and the ability to put that that all together very quickly. I found it quite impressive.

The inevitable comparison is to Spellbound, the documentary from a couple of years ago about the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and it's contestants. I don't think this one is quite so well-made or captivating as Spellbound, but it's very interesting and consistently entertaining. Jon Stewart's commentary and Will Shortz reading a selection of his hate mail are particularly hilarious moments. There's some real drama in the movie's "climax," the finals of the 2005 Crossword Championship, too.

Overall, pretty damn cool for a movie about nerds.

Tambourines and Elephants

It's not all crackheads and dealers wandering the streets and alleys of Capitol Hill.

We sit on a Sunday morning at the table in our "dining room" (what was once the house's front porch, until it was walled in and given tiny windows in the '70s), eating pancakes and watching the world go by.

A smarmy-looking middle-aged man pulls to the curb across the street in a school-bus-yellow Porsche to let out a woman half his age. The walk of shame, Emily astutely observes. She's clearly dressed in last night's clothes, and she's asked Porsche-man to let her off somewhere near her home, but not exactly in front of it. As he drives away, she walks off down the block, eyes on the sidewalk.

An mixed-bag assortment of six strange looking people squeeze into a tiny sedan and drive away.

People park their cars right in front of the "NO PARKING ANYTIME" signs, perhaps assuming that the unwritten fine print on the sign says, "...unless you really want to." I consider calling out the window to tell them that they'll be towed if they leave their cars there, but decide that I'd rather just leave them to their fate if they're dumb enough to park right in front of the "NO PARKING ANYTIME" sign.

A group of men who don't appear to have had any close association with a bar of soap in quite some time shamble down the street, one of them screaming, "Fuck you man! Fuck that shit!" and other Algonquin-Round-Table-worthy bons mot. Emily, continuing to be an astute observer of life outside our window, says, "Hey, look, a meeting of the minds!"

The crackheads do remain quite a presence. We were awakened at 7:30 this morning by a pair plying their trade not five steps from our bedroom window. "Hey," Emily says, yelling out the window and deploying our usual refrain, "this is private property!" I somewhat less than amused at this disruption of our pleasant Sunday morning lie-in, take a different tack. "Get the fuck out of here! I'm calling the cops next time!"

However, our efforts and those of our neighbors do seem to be making a difference. Emily watched a cop searching one of the Local Businessmen (or perhaps one of the Loyal Clientelle; it's often difficult to tell the difference) and telling him, "Don't hang out on this block anymore!" The police presence in the past few weeks has definitely been higher (so to speak).

The cops, overworked as ever, told our landlords that their basic plan is to keep pushing the Local Businessmen east along Colfax Ave. until they're in Aurora. Then, I suppose, it's Aurora's problem. Hardly an ideal solution, but probably the best we're going to get right now. On a philosophical level, I'm all for a real, meaningful solution to the drug problem. On a more practical level, I'd just like to have the drug problem not occurring in my front yard.