Tuesday, December 31, 2002

It's 3 PM on New Year's Eve. I've been enjoying the top 40 classical countdown on wqxr.com all morning, including Mahler's Fifth Symphony, among the other highlights. It's quite a hit parade over there. It continues until midnight tonight, then resumes again tomorrow at 9 AM. I'll probably skip tomorrow's performances in favor of televised gridiron contests, however.

Liz and I spent a relaxing week in Mississippi, visiting her family and friends. We found out that her parents have substitute grandchildren: they know another couple that has two young girls, whom they babysit and lavish attention on, so it looks like we're off the hook for a while, which is fine with us. I also got to meet and spend time with Liz's high school and summer theater camp friends, all of whom I'd known only via e-mail until last week. And I got to see The Two Towers and Star Trek: Nemesis again. Nemesis wasn't any better on the second viewing, but it wasn't any worse. I enjoyed TTT even more the second time. I approached it as a war movie, along the lines of the great black & white WWII epics of the 1940s and 1950s, and that made it even more impressive than before. I agree with some of the critics who say that Peter Jackson has sacrificed the hobbits' stories for the sake of the Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli plotline, but who can blame him? A three-hour characters study of the hobbits would be mildly interesting but audiences want to see the depiction of the Helm's Deep battle, and on that score, Jackson does not disappoint. Even knowing what happens to the Elves durign the battle doesn't detract from the thrill of seeing them when they arrive at the fortress in their armor and marching in formation. The battles of the Pelennor Fields and the Black Gate in ROTK should be unbelieveable, if Helm's Deep is any indication.

In case this is my last entry for 2002, have a happy New Year. See you on the other side in 2003.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Yesterday was my birthday. I’m 29, so I’ve only got one more year in which I can identify myself as in my twenties. After this, I’m well on my way to being a dull old fogey. Let the thrill-ride begin.

I’m well past the age at which birthdays are a day-long celebration of myself. So instead of Liz and I having dinner alone together, we had a free meal courtesy of her office Christmas party. I was certain her coworkers would serenade me with “Happy Birthday,” but thankfully, they held back. One of them noticed the horrified look on my face when the party next to us sang it for someone in their group and I thought it was for me. I don’t mind so much when my family does it for me, but I’ve always despised a large group of friends (or in this case, relative strangers) sing “Happy Birthday” to me. What am I supposed to do while they sing? Who or what do I look at? Is it acceptable for me to stare at my plate and wait for it to be over? It’s a little better if there’s a cake with lit candles in front of me; at least then I can watch the flames and think of a wish.

Earlier in the day, at lunch with my colleagues, I started feeling introspective and brought up childhood, comparing my years of teasing and torment at the hands of other students with the experiences one of my work friends had. Then, to make matters worse, for some reason I brought up the girl I dated briefly in high school. I was trying to make some point about how it would have been impossible for me to be attractive to anyone for dating purposes until I learned how to react maturely to the taunts and jabs from the other students. And I was trying to show how I thought this girl was out of my league, until she somehow became interested in me at the same time I was interested in her. (Believe me, those who knew me in high school will attest that I was no one’s prize catch, so for anyone to want to date me, let alone this girl, was quite an achievement for me.) Instead, by sharing this pointless story with my coworkers, I ended up looking foolish. Who talks about their love life at work, especially stories from high school? I was definitely feeling reflective, but I didn’t have to share that much.

The biggest problem with my birthday this time around is my current obsession with age, aging, and the passage of time. I’m having trouble articulating just why I’m always thinking about how old people are, or when events happened, or how different events affect someone at a particular age. But I’m particularly bothered by my own aging process. Frequently, I wish I could pause time, savoring not just a moment, but days and weeks of experiences. I’m really enjoying this particular time in my life: great job, wonderful wife, enough disposable income to enjoy Manhattan’s restaurants and bars, the freedom to work late, stay out late, or stay up late playing computer games if I want. I know that all of this is going to change in the next few years, with kids, a mortgage, and life in the suburbs ahead. I know that I’m not always going to be as physically fit as I am now, that my body will eventually start breaking down no matter how much I exercise or what I eat. I don’t want these things to happen. I want to enjoy this life as long as possible. But I can’t pause time and just live forever in my late twenties. So for me to have a birthday now, and with a milestone one coming in the next year, put me into a most unusual mood yesterday.

I read somewhere recently that a person always needs to have a challenge ahead of them, a project or something to work on, lest they become complacent and stop growing intellectually. I need a new challenge in my life. Maybe that’s my resolution for 2003: to find something with which to challenge myself. Can that be a resolution, or is the challenge itself a resolution?

Thursday, December 19, 2002

It's really late, and I need to get up for work tomorrow. But I wanted to write my first impressions of The Two Towers while they're fresh in my mind. Spoilers abound, so don't read on unless you don't care about that sort of thing.

It's a great movie, at least the equal of the first one, and sometimes better. They've taken a lot of liberties with the text this time around: Faramir intends to take the Ring to Gondor, and only changes his mind when he sees Frodo's temptation to use it himself. Elrond and Arwen appear and talk about how she should leave Middle-Earth and Aragorn. Merry and Pippin have to show the Ents the destruction of the trees at Isengard before they decide to attack. I'm sure there are more. But those are all OK with me, though I thought Faramir was a more upstanding character in the book than he was in the movie. Merry and Pippin don't have much to do in the book, so letting them show the Ents the way gives them some depth. And there has to be a little romantic and dramatic tension in the love story.

Helm's Deep was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas all get the chance to show their skills in battle. The Ents attacking Isengard was good, but I missed the horns and drums that Tolkien mentions repeatedly when describing the Ents' language and battle songs. Gollum was fantastic. I hope he does get some Oscar consideration, because his performance is probably the best acting job in the movie. I hated him and loved him at the same time, which is just how the character is supposed to make you feel.

The movie has no beginning and doesn't have much of an ending. It throws you right into the story and leaves you anticipating the ending. I can't wait to see The Return of the King next year. I'd go get in line now, if it weren't so cold and late.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

I'll probably make this into a bio of some kind later, but for now, I'll just post it as a regular blog entry. Yesterday, a friend sent me one of those questionnaires that asks for all sorts of innocuous information as a way for a large group of people to get to know each other, or, in this case, to know each other better. Here are my responses written yesterday afternoon.

1. What time is it? 3:33 PM
2. What color pants are you wearing right now? Gray.
3. What are you listening to right now? WQXR.com - classical music radio
4. How is the weather right now? Colder than a witch's teat.
5. Name as it appears on your birth certificate? Philip Edward Catelinet. Note the rare spelling of Philip with one L.
6. Nickname(s): Phil, Philly Beef 'n Cheese (not used for many years)
7. Parents' names: Barry and Rebecca.
8. Number of candles that appeared on your last birthday cake: 28.
9. Date that you regularly blow them out: December 20.
10. What are the last four digits of your phone number? Which phone? I'll pick one. 9313.
11. Last person you talked to on the phone? Someone from work.
12. What is the last thing you ate? Turkey sandwich, pretzels, Snapple iced tea.
13. Pets: three cats
14. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Purple
15. Hair color: Brown.
16. Eye Color: I liked Jess's answer, but I'll just say brown.
17. Tattoos: none.
18. Piercings: none.
19. What's the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Legs.
20. Do you like the person that sent you this? yes.
21. Favorite colors: Blue and purple.
22. Hometown: Johnstown, PA. Near Pittsburgh.
23. Current Residence: Manhattan.
24. Favorite food: I'll eat anything. Pizza, or a chicken parm hero.
25. Been to Africa? Not so far.
26. Been toilet papering? No, but I do have an ill-gotten STOP sign.
27. Loved somebody so much it made you cry? More than once.
28. Been in a car accident? One. I totaled the other car.
29. Croutons or Bacon Bits? Croutons.
30. Current car you drive? The NYC Subway.
31. Do you wear contacts? Yes.
32. Favorite month? December.
33. Best job you ever had? the one I'm in now. It leaves me with the free time to answer silly questionnaires.
34. Do the dishes right away or leave them in the sink? Leave them. I cook, my wife does the dishes.
35. Summer or winter? Winter. My wardrobe is better suited to cold temperatures.
36. Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate.
37. Favorite Movie(s): Almost Famous, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars
38. Favorite Holiday: the ones when I get a day off. There's nothing like a three-day weekend.
39. Favorite day of the week: Friday.
40. Favorite word or phrase: I say "absolutely" a lot lately, as an affirmative response to a question. I don't know why.
41. Favorite toothpaste: Mentadent
42. Favorite Restaurant: Virgil's BBQ in Times Square
43. Favorite Flowers: what guy has a flower preference?
44. Favorite Drink: Coffee, diet Vanilla Coke.
45. Your favorite alcoholic drink? Maker's Mark bourbon. Thanks, James.
46. How do you eat an Oreo? The way it comes out of the package.
47. Favorite sports to watch: Football.
48. Preferred type of ice cream: Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie.
49. Favorite Sesame Street Character: Oscar the Grouch.
50. The last book you read? "The Two Towers" to refresh my memory. The last great book was "The Brothers Karamazov" earlier this fall.
51. Favorite fast food restaurant: McDonald's.
52. When was your last hospital visit? When I was three, someone kicked me off the slide in nursery school, I hit my head, and needed stitches.
53. What color is your bedroom carpet? hardwood floors.
54. How many times did you fail your driver's test? One. Don't hit the curb when you're parallel parking.
55. Where do you plan to go, or did go on your honeymoon? Memphis, TN, for a few days, then Ireland a year later for a real vacation.
56. Who is the last person you got e-mail from before this? My father, about his side business providing video services to hospitals.
57. Do you want your friends to write back? Go ahead.
58. Have you ever been convicted of a crime? No, not even a parking ticket.
59. Which single store would you choose to max out your credit card? Amazon.com. J&R in Manhattan, if I can't shop online.
60. What do you do most often when you are bored? Play computer games.
61. Name the friend that lives farthest away from you: My friend Carol, who lives in Chicago.
62. Most annoying thing people ask you: "How do I get to [fill in the location]?" Why do I look like someone you'd want to ask for directions?
63. Where do you currently work? Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen, & Hamilton (law firm, but I'm not a lawyer)
64. Who will respond the quickest to this e-mail? no idea; I don't recognize most of the e-mail addresses on here.
65. Who is the person you sent this to that is least likely to respond? Kristen Chapman, but I removed her address so as not to annoy her further.
66. Favorite all time TV shows: "The Simpsons," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Monty Python's Flying Circus"
67. Last person(s) you went out to dinner with: my wife, Liz, and two of our friends, to a Mexican restaurant.
68. What's in your CD player right now? nothing, but I've got Brahms symphonies on my desk.
69. What's the next CD you're going to get? Audioslave.
I'm counting down the hours until tonight's showing of The Two Towers at the Loews 34th St. here in Manhattan. I'm not a "puddle" of giddy anticipation, as I thought I might be by now, but I'm too excited to express myself eloquently. My biggest fear is that I won't be interested in watching my DVD of the first movie after seeing the new one tonight. I've barely scratched the surface of the extras on the four-disc set. I'll try to post my review of TTT tomorrow, or late tonight if I'm still coherent when I get home in the wee hours.

Monday, December 16, 2002

No strike yet: the two sides are still talking. My office holiday party is on, so I'll be enjoying the libations and victuals this evening.

I came across the following in a strike-related news story on 1010 WINS:

Some New Yorkers said they altered their travel plans in preparation for a strike.
Michael Recca, an investment banker from Westchester County, said he parked his car at Grand Central Terminal on Sunday so that he could drive from midtown to his Wall Street job. He was unhappy that he had to ride the Metro-North train into Manhattan Monday morning.
"This is for the public," Recca said.

Indeed, the trains are for the public. I bet he hated having to ride in with the riff-raff, or the rabble, or the commoners. I'll add him to the list of people who don't get any sympathy from me. It would probably take less time for this guy to ride Metro-North to Grand Central and then take the 6 train to Wall Street than it does to drive in from Westchester each day. If I lived in the suburbs, I'd take that in a heartbeat over driving in each day. But I guess if you can't show off your Benz or Lexus or Rolls, then you don't get the joy of showing off how much better you are than the rest of the people who live and work here. Thanks for your insight, jackass.
I got to see Star Trek: Nemesis one day early, on Thursday night at a special screening for Network Associates employees and clients (of which my employer is one). I thought it was a good movie, with great special effects and action sequences. It's a rehash of the Wrath of Khan plot, this time with Picard facing himself as an adversary. It's not as good as First Contact, but it's better than the two-hour episode Insurrection. I'm not sure this movie saves the Trek franchise, but if it's the last voyage of the Next Generation crew, it's a good ride. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it again in two weeks when we're in Mississippi. With movies like this (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc., my old favorites) I need two or three viewings to make a decent evaluation.

Right now New York City is anxiously awaiting word of a transit strike for tomorrow. As with all labor negotiations, both sides waited until the last minute to start talking seriously about the issues, forcing the rest of us to sweat it out. Neither side in this dispute gets much sympathy from me. I'm a lifelong Democrat, traditionally the party of labor, but I've never been a fan of unions. I endured three school strikes when I was growing up, the last one during my senior year, which postponed graduation until June 30 and disrupted classes all year long. After that, I lost all respect for unions. A transit strike in New York would be beyond devastating. Aside from the problems it would cause for residents, it would be a shattering blow to tourism and businesses. I can walk to work, but what about the family of four who came to New York to see the sights at Christmastime? How are they expected to get around? What about the ambulances and fire trucks? What about food deliveries to groceries and restaurants? It would be a complete mess, and it would do irreparable economic damage to a city that's already in the red. I hope that when I wake up later this morning, both sides will have found something they can agree on and keep this city moving. Plus, my office's Christmas party would go on as scheduled. (I'm allowed to have a selfish reason to oppose a strike, right?)

Thursday, December 12, 2002

In a story that will surprise no one, Guns N' Roses has canceled the rest of its US tour. Ten years ago, this would have crushed me, but now I just have to laugh at it. I still love Gn'R's old albums, and I've recently gained a new appreciate of Appetite for Destruction. I even saw the band on its 1992 tour with Metallica, and it remains one of the greatest live shows I've ever seen. But I never had any interest in seeing the band that Conan O'Brien refers to as "Fatty Magoo and the Guys Who Aren't Slash." Ever since Axl Rose fired the rest of the band in 1994 (or thereabouts), I've given up hope that anything resembling the old sound would ever come out of his studio. And that was borne out by the new band's performance at the MTV VMAs in August. Seeing Axl and some nameless weirdos playing my old favorite songs confirmed that the old Gn'R is long, long gone. Although I have hope for the new album that may be forthcoming from the rest of the original group. I heard some of the album that Slash put out in 1995, and it wasn't too bad, so maybe this new effort will bring back some fond memories of my late teens.

I spent Wednesday traveling around the New York City area with my father, assisting him with his side business of providing educational video programming to hospitals. The work we were doing (installing/replacing laserdisc players with DVD players) wasn't that interesting, but we did have some fun trying to find the hospitals. We took private taxis to all our appointments, and while some of them knew where to go, one driver in particular had no idea where our Bronx hospital was. Dad and I had each been there before, so we had a vague idea where it was. But the cabbie had no clue, and even when I told him we were going in the wrong direction, he didn't turn around. Twice we drove out of our way on a congested Cross Bronx Expressway, and if I never see that road again.... I had my new iPaq handheld and a wireless Internet connection, so I kept trying to look up directions to the hospital, but every time I entered our current location, we'd pull away before I could get the directions from Mapquest. Finally, we asked a gas station attendant where to go, and while we waited, I got the right directions. With the attendant's help, and my online searching, we finally found our way. The next cab ride was less of a puzzle since the driver knew just where to go, but he was talkative and shared far too many details of his life story as he drove us from the Bronx to upper Manhattan. We heard all about his son who was born out of wedlock, his daughter who he abandoned at the age of two because of his drinking problems, his subsequent attempts to rekindle the relationship with his now-grown daughter and her family, and his uncle (wait, it's now his uncle-in-law; I'm still trying to figure out how that works) who's a doctor but can't afford to retire. I'm glad I had the chance to spend time with my father, but I could do without all the cab rides. Along those lines, we took him on the subway later that night, and it was the first time he'd been on the NYC subway in almost 40 years. He was on some of the "redbird" cars when they were new!

Monday, December 09, 2002

I spent this past weekend in Pittsburgh, at the Steelers-Texans game. Photos of the game are available at my photos page. The game was terrible, but I had a good time. I got to enjoy a Primanti Bros. sandwich, which has meat, cheese, french fries, and cole slaw, all between two slices of white bread. It's a heart attack in your hand! And I got to see Myron Cope up close, though I didn't get to meet him. But it was worth sticking around after a dismal game in cold weather to see a local broadcasting legend in person.

On Saturday night my mother and I went to the Pittsburgh Symphony concert at Heinz Hall, and it was like a trip back in time for me. I hadn't been to a concert there in 10 years, but the place hadn't changed. It's just as elegant and opulent as I remembered. The orchestra was, as always, the best I've ever heard. The brass section in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique was crisp and clear, and the percussion rumbled and crashed with precision. And I always love watching the string sections' bows moving in unison, everyone playing the notes with the exact same touch and motion. It made me want to go home and practice.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Once again, too long between entries. We had a quiet, uneventful Thanksgiving in the city.

Thanks to Chad Pennington's performance against the Raiders on Monday night, I snuck into the playoffs in my fantasy football league. I'm still not sure how that happened. Even if I don't win another game this season, I'd consider my efforts a success, and I've learned a lot for next year.