Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Year in Media and Cities, 2008

Inspired by Jason over at, I decided to spend a bit of time thinking about some of the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been over the past year. This would have been way cooler if I had started keeping track of this a few years ago, but better late than never. Now, at least, in a few years time I’ll already have started. Since I only thought of this game yesterday, I’m almost certain that I’m forgetting some things. If I’ve attended a city with you, or seen a movie in your presence, or listened to you read a book aloud to me, and you don’t see that city or movie or book on this list, please let me know, and I’ll add it.

Feel free to record your own lists in the comments section or on your own blog or in your diary or carved into your dining-room table, etc.

Cities I’ve attended, spending at least a day and a night in each locale
West Orange, NJ
East Hanover, NJ
Manhattan, NY
Paris, France
Dublin, Ireland
Madrid, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
Eastman, GA
Atlanta, GA
Denver, CO
Kill Devil Hills, NC
Indian Orchard, PA
Boston, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Bronx, NY
Seville, Spain
Granada, Spain
Delray Beach, FL
Westhampton Beach, NY

Movies I’ve seen on the Big Screen
Iron Man

Tropic Thunder (twice)
Miracle at St. Anna
The Dark Knight
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
Gran Torino
Funny Games
Role Models
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Sweeney Todd
The Rocker

Movies I’ve seen on the little screen
Salt of the Earth
The Searchers
Imitation of Life
In the Heat of the Night
Night of the Living Dead
To Kill a Mockingbird
Quiz Show
Malcolm X
Daughters of the Dust
Birth of a Nation
Chan is Missing
Paradise Canyon
Annie Hall
Taxi Driver
Raging Bull
Grindhouse: Death Proof
The Warriors
Batmans Begins
Dr. Strangelove
Get Shorty
Kung-Fu Panda

Books I’ve read
Infinite Jest
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Boys Will Be Boys
FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Men With Balls
Portnoy’s Complaint
No One Belongs Here More Than You
On Chesil Beach
Should You Be Laughing at This?
Invisible Man
Moby Dick
Ant Farm
Everything is Illuminated
Girl With Curious Hair
The Broom of the System
Baseball Prospectus 2008
Baseball Between the Numbers (in progress)
K Blows Top
Billy Budd and Other Stories
Musicophilia (in progress)
Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (in progress)
The Elements of Style
Goodbye Columbus
Captain Freedom (in progress)
Neo-Babylonian Court Procedure

Sporting Events I’ve attended
2k Sports Classic
Thursday, November 20
Duke 83, Southern Illinois 58
Michigan 55, UCLA 52
Madison Square Garden

Jimmy V Classic
December 9, 2008
Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Texas 67, Villanova 58
Madison Square Garden

September 15, 2008
Yankees 4, White Sox 2
Yankee Stadium

August 26, 2008
Red Sox 7, Yankees 3
Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2008
Knicks 120, Heat 115
Madison Square Garden
Mike D'Antoni's first game as Knicks coach

June 5, 2008
Celtics 98, Lakers 88
TD Banknorth Garden
Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals
The Paul Pierce Wheelchair Game

August 4, 2008
Nationals 9, Rockies 4
Coors Field

TV Seasons I’ve watched
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Seasons 1-4

The Simpsons
Seasons 1-10

Mad Men
Seasons 1-2

30 Rock
Seasons 1-2, plus all episodes released during 2008

Flight of the Conchords
Season 1

Seasons 1-2

The Office
All episodes released during 2008

Plays I’ve attended

[Note: the averages that follow are now slightly wrong, because I've been adding more media experiences to the lists as I remember them, and I'm too lazy to recalculate.]

So, on average, I’ve:

• Visited a new place every ~19 days;
• Seen a movie on the big screen every ~24 days;
• Seen a movie on the little screen once every two weeks;
• Read a book every ~12.5 days (books in progress count as half of one);
• Attended a live sporting event every ~40 days;
• Watched a season of TV every ~16.5 days (not to mention all the other TV I watched; ugh, it’s been a heavy TV year);
• Attended a play once every twelve months
• Composed a blog post once every ~4.6 days (including this post).

It’s been a busy year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Their Reputations Precede Them

Earlier this fall, the Film Forum down the town held screenings of the amazingly beautiful Coppola Restorations of both The Godfather, Part I and The Godfather, Part II. I spent a solid seven hours--including a thirty-minute break between films, and a ten-minute intermission within the second film--with Al Pacino and company. It was a glorious Sunday.

It was also my first experience watching a classic film in such a public setting, amidst somewhat serious film connoisseurs. The setting was weird, because most everyone in the theater had already seen the films. But, more important, even those who hadn't actually seen these movies had almost seen them anyway. I've never seen all of The Shining (it's on my queue), but I've seen enough parodies and tributes that I feel as if I have. The same is true of Jaws, The Graduate, etc. I'm all for the appropriation and incorporation of previous elements of our culture, but things get a little sticky when we then need to return to the original.

During the The Godfather afternoon, I heard a whole lot of laughter coming from the audience. The films do have a touch of comedy, but lines like "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" aren't meant to elicit laughter. I think people laughed at that line more out of sheer recognition than humor, the recognition that this is the original context for such a famous phrase.

This is a case in which a film is viewed by an audience which possesses probably too much previous knowledge. I hate previous knowledge when it comes to movies. I like, if at all possible, to experience a film in the way the director intended, with the chronology intact. That's why I don't read movie reviews until after I've seen the movie.

I think something similar happens to well-established actors all the time, even in brand-new movies. John Wayne is always the tough guy. That's why I love when movies use the audience's previous knowledge against them. JCVD seems like an excellent example, even though I haven't seen it. (I know this much about it because--try as I might--it's damn hard to not hear about movies.) Jean-Claude Van Damme, in this movie, plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, the movie star who plays tough guys in his films. JCVD the actor--who is, of course, acting--finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery, and everyone expects him to live up to his movie persona. It's a pretty clever concept, one that recognizes the preconceptions that viewers bring with them to the theater.

And this is why I think Gran Torino might be the best new movie I've seen this year, even though much of the audience giggled the laugh of recognition when Clint Eastwood's character, the movie's protagonist, did any stereotypical Eastwood thing. As David Denby so nicely put it in The New Yorker issue dated December 22 & 29, "The movie was not written for [Clint] Eastwood, but it still seems to be all about him--his past characters, his myth, his old role as a dispenser of raw justice. Growling and muttering, Eastwood appears to be offering a satirical critique: this hoarse-voiced, glaring, absurdly nasty old man is what Dirty Harry might have become." The cool part is that the film progresses beyond the classic Eastwood character, showing some serious myth-development. The film reads as the mature Eastwood--still a bad-ass, but now with some perspective--reflecting on his career and the state of America. It's a perspective worth paying attention to.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Ballad of Sorgi

Never underestimate the importance of a surprise. It's especially good when you've been down a path before, and yet you still manage to find yourself surprised by something you've seen dozens of times before.

Example: I always, always forget about the bunting that appears around baseball stadia for the playoffs. And I always smile when I see evidence of that little tradition of postseason ball.

Another example: I've seen "You Only Move Twice," the second episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons, at least a handful of times, and yet I always forget about the classic Hammock District exchange. And because I don't regularly think of that gag, it cracks me up every time I see the episode.

The final, most pertinent example: Jim Sorgi.

Sorgi is, by a conservative estimate, one of the fifty best people in the whole world at quarterbacking. He was successful as an amateur at Wisconsin, and he's been serviceable in his limited professional playing time, all with the Colts. But the guy hardly ever plays. He has attempted a pass in a grand total of ten games in his five seasons in the NFL. In three of those contests he has attempted three passes or fewer. Now that Matt Cassel has earned himself a long-term, multi-dozen-million dollar contract after his play this season, Sorgi is by far the most prominent example of a backup quarterback who never plays in games that matter. That's what happens when you serve as the understudy for a dude named Peyton Manning, who has started all 16 annual regular season games every season he's been in the league.

So it's something special when Sorgi gets a chance to play. Four out of the last five years, Sorgi has managed to garner plenty of playing time in the closing week or weeks of the season because the Colts had already secured their playoff position. Even this year, the Colts were locked into the 5th seed entering week 17, and Sorgi saw his first action of the season.

Sorgi's only been with the team since 2004, but it seems like he's been there forever, only appearing when the games either are already decided or inconsequential. Sorgi's very existence is one of those little annual surprises that I could foresee if I thought about it hard enough. But I never do, and--poof!--there he is, almost every year, playing in the closing week of the season.

YouTube, sadly, has almost no evidence of Sorgi, except for the one video which I will embed in this very blog.

The video cracks me up for three reasons:
  1. It's titled "Jim Sorgi Highlights 2008," yet it only depicts events from an exhibition game against the Redskins. It's as if anonymous YouTube uploader ffootball93 knew that the highlights of Sorgi's 2008 season would come in the preseason. Ffootball93 was wrong because Sorgi had a pretty good day yesterday in a game that officially counted, but his guess wasn't too far off.
  2. The video opens with Sorgi warming up. I, for the life of me, thought the entire video consisted of Sorgi warming up, which would then be followed by him standing on the sideline, watching Manning, y'know, play football. It didn't turn out that way, but someone should probably pull together just such a video.
  3. One of the highlights of Sorgi's 2008--not even his 2008 football season, according to the title; his entire 2008--is the time he got sacked by two Redskins, at the ~40 second mark.
It didn't have to be this way, Sorgi. You could have been drafted by the Bengals, let's say, where you would have received regular playing time because Carson Palmer missed all but four games this season. But this is your fate, and you've bravely embraced it. There's not one of us out here who wouldn't gladly trade places with you. Just make sure that you prepare yourself for the Bernard Pollard scenario. And, also, please update your journal. I, at least, want to know what it's like to be in your scenario.

Here's to you, Sorgi, for being the most prominently inconsequential professional football player of my generation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Delicious Case of Who-Donut

During the ~month I spent proofreading my first book, I traversed a decent portion of the Washington Heights neighborhood.

View Larger Map

I hardly ever followed this exact route; my travels were more reminiscent of that blond kid from Family Circus.

But just about every day I did pass the storefront that formerly hosted Gruenebaum's Bakery. For as long as I've lived in my current apartment (June 2008 or so) that location has been empty, with various For Rent signs posted in the windows. But the overhead signage of the bakery remains, signage that looks remarkably like these photographs I took earlier this morning:


It took a solid month of looking at this logo to realize why it looks so darn familiar.

Compare that bakery logo with this one:


Two bakeries, both with a sapphire shade of blue, both with this lilting script of a font, both with prominent underlining, and both with exaggerated capital letters. There are some differences--most obviously the script used for the closing "s" in each logo--but the similarities are more pronounced than the differences.

I snooped around the internet a bit, and discovered that Entenmann's was founded in Brooklyn by a German immigrant in 1898. Their stylistic and baked-goods competitor, Gruenebaum's, according to an April 6, 2001 article in The New York Jewish Week, was " Frankfurt, Germany, early in the 20th century." The article continues:
The Frankfurt bakery closed its doors in 1938 and the family immigrated to the United States in 1940. Banin's father worked for different bakeries until 1957, when he bought out a store on 177th Street and Broadway. In 1961, he opened Gruenbaum's on 181st Street and "the place took off. Bakeries was all my father did," says Banin. "That was what he knew."
I haven't been able to find any reference to the histories of these two (or, maybe, one) logos. I don't know if one bakery initiated the blue, lilting logo craze before its competitor "borrowed" the design. I do know this, though: I will continue my investigation of this story, and The Daily Snowman will continue to be the internet's premier source for investigative journalism in the field of corporate logos, especially baked goods.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking: Red Sox Offer $22 Million Per Annum to Comic Book Guy

I know Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox, deserves a little faith for, y'know, leading the team to more W. Series titles in the last five years than they'd achieved in the preceding 86 ones. But I really can't figure out why, according to this report (by Peter Gammons and Buster Olney), they want to sign a comic book artist best known for his work on Ghost Rider.

Bill James is a Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Sox, so I assume they know what they're doing, but still. This is just weird.

I will get to see this in person on March 4

Here's hoping J. Smith is still healthy in ten weeks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Snowman

Two years ago, on this very day, a plucky youth gathered some snow he had saved in his freezer, arranged that snow into three balls, added a scarf, top-hat, vaguely arm-looking sticks, a few pieces of coal, and a carrot. He then took this snow-man shaped object, drove it out to the pristine white countryside, and drew a picture of it, which can be viewed in the green box thing to the right of these words. That picture inspired that same pluck-ful youth to write things down on the internet.

92 posts later, we have reached the two-year blog-iversary of what became The Daily Snowman. The world is truly a richer place for it.

To celebrate in style, we'll be taking a stroll down memory lane, revisiting some of the best of The Daily Snowman, ranking the top two (in honor of the second birthday) of various stuff which I just thought of now about this blog.

Best Investigative Pieces
1) The "New" Series
2) Some Magazines, Not Surprisingly, Have Many Ads

Best Embedded Videos


Best Photos


Best Sentence
1) But I was experiencing this weird mixture of appreciation for a bit of foreign, ancient, and fascinating ritual, along with this sense of Western superiority and hubris, as I was watching these guys do a dance to subjugate demons.
2) All this serves to remind me that sports--that last great unscripted bit of American entertainment--is way better when it seems as if it had been scripted.

Best Comedy Pyramid
1) NY Jets fans are either bad spellers, or are offering up some tribute to Infinite Jest
2) That was my only comedy pyramid. More, please.

Most Famous Commenter
1) Jeffrey Morgenthaler, creator of Repeal Day
2) Ara 13, who apparently is the author of Drawers & Booths, an IPPY "Outstanding Book of the Year."

Best Confused Comment by Joseph [everything in this entry that should be [sic] is hereby [sic]]
1) thats creepy. why cant we just let people be?
2) i'm lost

Most Prominent Recognition of The Daily Snowman, Both for the Same Post, or: Maybe I Should Write About the NBA Tip-Off Event More Often
1) Deadspin
2) The Village Voice's Runnin' Scared Blog

Best Post
1) Repeal Day!
2) The Rockies as my Life

So there it is. The 93rd Post Spectacular. I've had 1540 page views, but I only figured out how to add the stat counter maybe five months ago. So that works out to about thirty readers per post in the last half-year. Thank you greatly for all those who decided to take the time to visit. Your comments have made this more fun, and I encourage you to keep 'em coming.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Snowman.

ALSO: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Troubled Souls Unite is also celebrating it's blog-iversary today. Happy one-year birthday to my roommate. It's weird that our blogs are soulmates. We only share a room.

[UPDATE: Sorry that the date is wrong. I started writing this post on Monday, 12/1 at 11:45 PM EST, apparently, so blogger dated the post accordingly. You'd think that I could at least get the date right on my own blog-iversary. Meh.]