and I quote

april 2013

click for permalink April 12 2013

I have no idea what's going on in the world right now. I haven't seen Democracy Now since before the election and today I had to force myself to watch a string of Daily Shows in the hopes of avoiding any more embarrassing exchanges at work. Between meetings today (and just to set the scene here, all of my "at work" stories take place over a remote connection... so I guess technically it's all happening in my bedroom), but anyway, my coworker tells me that her 9-year old is totally freaked out about North Korea. He's worried they're going to drop a bomb on us (well, the US) , and I actually had to say something like, "Really, why? Uh, I don't really watch, um..."

TV shows that haven't been illegally uploaded by copyright criminals? Anything that exists outside the bubble in which I live and doesn't directly impact my narcissistic little hierarchy of needs? Sure, pick one. Basically, if you want to engage in some friendly chitchat about current events or commiserate with me on the state of the "world," you'd better plan on bringing me up to speed first, 'cause that's just how I roll.

Meanwhile back inside the bubble, March wasn't the complete and utter bore that my failure to post so much as a word about it might indicate. It was actually a rather eventful month by recent standards, kicking off with an evening at the Vancouver Wine Festival with my hermanos (not my real hermanos mind you, but two great friends I don't see nearly often enough) and closing out with a proverbial jettisoning of caution as I rode all the way out to the end of the Sky Train line to subject my hair to the miraculously noxious chemical process once known as a perm.

Of course, my mid-week decision to make an appointment with the highly recommended friend of my hairstylist (her salon won't let her do them while she's still an apprentice) only seems impulsive if you haven't lived through a decade with my hot rollers, humidity-repelling hairspray and grafting hoods onto light summer jackets and warm winter coats alike. This appointment has been a distant speck on the horizon since late 2010 when my hair had its very last run-in with a bottle of bleach. (If you've never had reason to know this, hair lightening chemicals and hair curling chemicals are like the matter and anti-matter of the hair styling world—commit to the one and you are permanently ruined for the other, or at least until all your hair grows out fresh and healthy, like a classic car you keep in storage to preserve its resale value).

Fail to heed this simple rule and very bad things will happen, they say. Dare to suggest that surely some technological breakthroughs have been made in the century since perms were invented and you'll get an ear (or eye) full of horror stories. So, just to make sure everyone understands this; if you're born with eyes that have congenital defects, we can take a laser beam and chisel away until perfect vision is imparted. But if you're born with straight hair and you want curly hair but you've highlighted it within the last two years, all our science is powerless to help you. Disulfide bonds are apparently the one natural law that humans are not above.

Barbie: Ladies of the 80s seriesUltimately you stifle your argumentative streak and search for a single stylist who even does perms these days, and this is where you would start to worry if not for the fact that this simply doesn't fit into your narcissistic little hierarchy of needs. When the entire internet tries to convince you that no one has even craved artificial curls since the 1980s when everyone was walking around in leggings and ankle boots, talking about Margaret Thatcher and worrying about evil foreigners dropping bombs on us... Hmm.

Well, I exercised patience and restraint for two and a half years, did biweekly deep conditioning treatments and dutifully reported for regular trims by a licensed professional. To keep my hair in shape for its long-anticipated date with sodium thioglycolate, I lived in strict compliance with the no bleach rule, using relatively benign yet comparatively short-lived vegetable hair color compounds. It's just meant that I had to do it more often, and that isn't really a downside in my mind. (Besides, I still say hot pink was the ideal transition color to mark the passing of my blonde decade).

But while the caution-tossing aspect may have been proverbial, the end of the line was anything but. I had to schlepp all the way out to Richmond to find one stylist who actually enjoys doing perms (and it turns out she has pink hair too!). This is a 50-square mile partially-enclosed shopping district 30 minutes south of Vancouver situated at the literal end of the Sky Train line, but it's also something of a figurative culmination, evoking the architectural dystopia Junkspace envisioned by Rem Koolhaus.

Approaching the Brighouse station, all you see for miles in any direction is shiny mixed-use low-rise towers; tiny furnished rental condos with scale-model sofa sets stacked on top of dental clinics, tax outlets and Starbucks. At ground level, everything that isn't retail space is paved and interconnected by parking lots, pedestrian overpasses and mass transit hubs spiky with signage, timetables and toll-bots. You emerge pinball-like from the tube to the platform to a blind stairwell, each conveyance giving way to the next until you are borne headlong into a mall—but it's the wrong mall (of one thing I am certain—all roads in Richmond lead to one mall or another). Veering onto a crosswalk a glance downstream confirms that all along the main artery, there are countless shopping slabs on either side as far as you care to see. In the distance looms a massive HomeSense, its windowless concrete facade easily five times the size of the one downtown that occupies a manageable second-story over a Whole Foods-type grocery store. But your sense of proportion is all out of whack. This monolith could easily be ten times that size for all you know.

Anyway, you survive Richmond but afterwards the harsh chemicals usher in 48 hours of torture during which you can't wash your hair and the smell threatens to overwhelm you. You're 85% certain that it hasn't turned out well, but damn it this is what you've wanted and waited for, so you're determined to make it work. You feel that the suspense, to say nothing of the fumes, will kill you — you're dying to find out just how bad it is and what you'll have to do to try and fix it — but wait you do. When you finally wash it two days later, of course, you needn't have worried... but not really of course. After all, you were strongly advised against this and expert opinions were seemingly backed up by the wisdom of crowds (if 48 hours of self-flagelating internet research can be unironically labelled "wisdom"). But as luck would have it, it wasn't.

It all worked out fine and I can happily do things now that I could only dream of before, like going outside in the spring without an umbrella and not having to carry a hooded jacket or scarf with me on warm days just so I'll be prepared if I have to shroud my head at the first sign of rain. Better living through seriously evil-smelling chemistry!

What else..? We watched the first season of House of Cards and the second season of The Hour, sped (heh) through the 4th season of Breaking Bad and just managed to finish the 5th season of Mad Men before the start of the new season after which it will be impossible to avoid hearing spoilers on all my favorite podcasts.

And then there's The Walking Dead...

I got Mr. Pink the video game from Telltale Games last Xmas after reading some of the more over-the-top reviews it had been getting on the gaming sites. I'm programmed by having two X-chromosomes to be a sucker for games with a "story," but besides raving about the award-winning writing, the reviews were peppered with words like amazing, unforgettable, calling it a juggernaut in its category and an emotional masterpiece. You can read some of them here.

Before we started playing the game we had only watched the first episode of the show but for some reason the infection hadn't taken hold. Over a four-day marathon we played through the five episodes, rooted to the couch alternating turns at the controller while the other practiced the back-seat gaming techniques of yelling commands while gesturing frantically at the screen. Although I've racked up hours watching Grand Theft Auto from the sidelines, it is extremely unusual to find us actually playing a video game together. Our tandem gaming behavior, it turns out, is similar to our TV watching behavior, especially of a show that we love but of which we are deeply critical (think "Lost" or "The West Wing" post-Sorkin).

Simultaneously bitching at the screen, bitching at each other, stopping to check online for a second opinion, or an "I told you so," and the inevitable narrative tangents that result, constantly rewinding and replaying because we're so busy doing all of the above that we keep missing some crucial plot point or time-limited decision window and shushing each other so we can try to pay attention this time, damn it... As you can imagine, all this can be a hindrance when trying to watch a show, but when you're playing a game it all seems much more appropriate and rather helpful.

When my mother saw Les Miserables she told me she couldn't remember crying that much at a movie before, and I said it sounded like me by the end of The Walking Dead game. At the time, I'm sure she was thinking, Um... okay? We're talking about a video game, right? But then she and her husband started playing it and now I get these emails with all caps in the subject lines: IMPORTANT QUESTION! Then, Okay... we've died like umpteen times!! How the hell do you keep from getting killed by that damn woman in the farm house? (So obviously I can't talk about the ending yet.)

After we finished the game we gave the show another try and got sucked in immediately, to the point where we blew through seasons one and two in less than a month (so that's where January went — I was wondering about that!), then we proceeded to watch all available episodes of season three until we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of being all caught up and waiting for Sunday night to roll around just like civilians. Grr... I hate liking something this much! Seriously, I have weird adolescent feelings about this show, maybe the way my guy friends used to feel about Star Wars before George Lucas went and made his fans watch as he destroyed his creation before their eyes.

During the season three intermission, just to stave off withdrawal symptoms between episodes, I started listening to three different podcasts about the show. I feel bad dissing something that gave me hours of entertainment and occasional profound-ish insights, but listening to these shows made me feel like such a loser that, even though Mister Pink knew about them, I found myself turning down the volume every time he walked by when I was listening to them.

I also started reading the graphic novels, trying to reserve them in order from the library so I could pace myself over the summer. Book Six came in first, then Books Two and Three all at once, then nothing for almost a month and now Books Four and Five just came in. I still haven't read Book One and these two will probably only last me the weekend. So that plan is working out well... I can tell I'm going to have to do some weird mental gymnastics to avoid falling into a deep malaise after I've finished the latest one.

Since the season three finale concluded on such an ambivalent note and season four doesn't start until October, we now have six months to contemplate whether our new favorite show will pull out of its current slump or if it's entered the kind of slow, painful Abrams-ian death spiral to which once-great shows like Heroes, and Alias before it, succumbed (but to which Mad Men and Breaking Bad are evidently, miraculously immune).

Whenever network interests, or those of a shadowy cabal of shareholders, stand in opposition to the artistic sensibilities of a revolving cast of increasingly disposable "show runners," and everyone who cares about story arcs and a plot free of holes is eventually fired or quits citing "differences over the show's direction," it isn't long before the wheels come off and what began as a downward slide starts to pick up speed. Even a death spiral can have its moments of excitement, but careen too far off course and every fresh disappointment makes it harder to remember the good times. Once those memories fade, hope is quick to follow.

In a last desperate bid to stop the hemorrhaging of viewers, networks may use the only weapon in their arsenal, throwing cash at the problem, but it's too little too late. The writers naturally react to the easing of austerity measures like Amish teens on Rumspringa, resurrecting long-dead story lines from the trash heap and inflicting them on their loyal but dwindling audience; stunt-casting celebrity guest stars, dumbed-down flashback recaps, entire episodes shot on weird locations for no apparent reason. Finally, with cancellation imminent, a steering committee of writers, producers, ex-wives and financial "advisors" hunker down for one last brainstorm, channelling all their frustration, bitterness, petty jealousies and resentments into a final bridge-burning conflagration. While presumably cathartic for them, this leaves the handful of viewers who stuck with it until the end disgusted and sad, without even the hope of a future reunion.

Man... I'd forgotten what a great fucking show Alias was before ABC stepped in halfway through the 2nd season and ruined the shit out of it. They were afraid all the plot twists and episode cliffhangers were putting new viewers off the show because they were too stupid to follow it... Ooh, cliffhangers. Can you believe that shit? I bet they thought viewers were confused by all the wigs and disguises, too. "Hey, who is that lady? But where did the red-haired lady go? I'm lost... My brain hurts." Bastards.

Now that The Walking Dead is suddenly on shaky ground, it's funny to see the "Lost" references starting to pop up in episode reviews. Thank god we never caught up with "Lost" until it was safely off the air and everyone we knew had either given up by that point or never got into it in the first place.

Of course our new favorite is still enjoying unprecedented ratings for a cable show, so let's try to keep that in perspective, shall we? I hear Telltale Games might be releasing a sequel before this summer...