Sunday, December 31, 2006

Fu-Ki Sake

Time to turn the page on another year. We began ushering out 2006 on a sad note, attending the memorial service for a family friend who passed away a few days after Christmas after a year-long battle with cancer. To her own dismay, she hung on for four weeks after doctors first gave her the "any day now" diagnosis. In the end, it was a moment of relief that the suffering was finally over. After James Brown and Gerald Ford died, I wondered aloud, "Who will the third one be?" because celebrities tend to pass on in threes.

As such ceremonies tend to be, the service was a surreal mix of smiles and laughter and, "It's so good to see you" mixed with frowns and tears and, "So sorry it's under these circumstances." But Casey and I got to catch up with Matt and Denise, who flew in from Seattle with their daughter, before gathering my sister and making good time from Red Bank to Braintree in just about five hours flat, including the initial fill-up at the gas station and a 15- or 20-minute break for dinner on the way.

We knocked on Bryan's back door on the deck just after 10 p.m., thoroughly startling Michael, Cathy and him as they sat in the dark watching a movie. First order of business was to test combinations for the sake for tonight's New Year's party, but after one bottle had been kicked, three or four variations yielded one unanimous composition that will be reconstructed tonight, no doubt to the guests' high praise.

The sake must have energized us, the sugar and the sweetness outweighing the alcohol, because after finishing Little Miss Sunshine and watching various Saturday Night Live sketches online and conducting other YouTube searches, the background music became dance music, the six of us jumping around the living room and singing along -- shouting along, perhaps -- with songs from, as they might say on the radio, the 70s, 80s, 90s and today. A few rounds of Name That Tune later, and it was 2 a.m., and though not tired, I made the first move in calling it a night and trudged upstairs.

Awake and alert at 10 a.m. today, we've now kicked the party prep into full gear with a good two hours down and about three more to go before we break out the drinks and start toasting new years around the world. We've already missed Kamchatka, Australia, Japan, Singapore, China and half of Russia (not to mention everything in between the aforementioned locales), but we've got India, the Middle East, Moscow, Europe and Africa ahead of us.

And so, in whatever language best suits you, Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in the city

Rockefeller Center starbursts

I had to put up something new for the holiday, and this is one of my favorites of a recent holiday photo excursion around Manhattan. Dozens of images are in my Christmas set on Flickr.

Merry happy.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy peanut song ...

I know you know it. You have to. How could you not?

Yesterday, I walked into work at noon and heard the song on TV. "It's been a while since I've heard that," I thought to myself.

That would not remain the case, however. Leaving ESPNews on all day, we must've heard the song 20 times, often within minutes of the last time. It started to drive us crazy. We wondered if Snickers had suddenly come into extra advertising dollars and bought up a slew of spots on the ESPN family of networks. At the end of the day, we wondered how many times we'd heard it and wished we'd kept track.

Today, at 11:55 a.m., it came on again. And I didn't drop the ball. One co-worker who had been in for a few hours said he'd heard it at least twice, so I counted those instances as well. And then I started keeping track.

Here are the results:

3 - 11:55 a.m.
4 - Noon
5 - 12:26 p.m.
6 - 12:30 p.m.
7 - 12:52 p.m.
8 - 12:58 p.m.
9 - 1:35 p.m.
10 - 1:42 p.m.
11 - 1:50 p.m.
12 - 1:57 p.m.

13 - 3:19 p.m.
14 - 4:20 p.m.
15 - 4:40 p.m.
16 - 5 p.m.
17 - 5:19 p.m.
18 - 5:44 p.m.
19 - 5:59 p.m.
20 - 6:10 p.m.
21 - 6:24 p.m.
22 - 6:41 p.m.

It's ridiculous! It was aired twice within as little as four minutes! And I'm sure I missed some in that 2-4:20 p.m. range, because I was busy at the time and didn't always have the volume turned up enough to hear, and it's possible I missed one or two airings because I wasn't looking at the TV.

What's the reason? What's the point!? Are they trying to make us all mad? I used to love the bit, particularly the song, but it's just gotten old. In two days. Two days of nearly nonstop airings.

I'm finished now and ready to post, but Pardon the Interruption is currently in commercial, and I don't want to miss one last airing.


Waiting ...


Waiting ...


OK, it's back. No airing between 6:41 and 6:49 p.m. ET.

Resume your lives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

All burned out

It's all Bryan's fault.

He came down this weekend with his friend Michael and among all the other good times we had, we also put Burnout back in the ol' Xbox and spent a few hours on Friday night and Saturday morning crashing cars and racing on the streets of Palm Bay and Crystal Lake. And now, I find myself wrapped up in the game again, obsessed with completing the next task to be unlocked -- which happens to be a six-race series in which I have to finish first in each. The worst part is that I had won the first five two days ago before a knock at the door. I pressed the start button to pause it and let the maintenance man in. But in pressing start, I had merely skipped the intro to the race and jumped to the start -- and when I looked at the TV, my car sat idle at the starting line while the other three were nowhere in sight.

Anyway, enough of that. On Saturday -- after our Burnout sessions -- the four of us drove across the George Washington Bridge to the New York Botanical Gardens for the Holiday Train Show.

Comin' 'round the bend

An artist uses natural materials to recreate dozens of New York landmarks -- both famous and historic -- which are then placed amid the mostly green displays in the Haupt Conservatory, with the track laid around them.

First, the layout takes you through some standard, educational displays in the vast conservatory -- including a 110-degree (well it sure seemed like it) reproduction of a rain forest that I couldn't linger in too long on account of my winter coat and my tendency to overheat when the temperature in any room gets higher than about 72 degrees.

The show is expansive and fun, but I think I prefer instead the holiday train display at Citigroup Center in Manhattan. For one thing, it's free (not that the $18 at the botanical gardens wasn't worth it -- OK, maybe it was worth about 10 bucks), but my personal preference is for the recreation of tiny little towns, communities and landscapes, so for that reason I'm partial to Citigroup's display, which has buildings, trains, cars and figurines in a relative scale. At least the display at the gardens was less crowded and we were free to move about more easily, rather than being herded through a line under the pressure to keep moving so that the people behind us could get a look at the next scene along the way.

Intending to find out what Gingerbread Adventures was all about, we headed deeper into the complex after exiting the train show -- but then got sidetracked. Michael walked into the gift shop, and it was all over. I'm not sure what this impulse cost him and Bryan, but Casey and I left with $80 worth of Christmas ornaments, including copper-coated ornaments of an acorn and a grape leaf and a silver-dipped mistletoe to replace the flattened, mangled, mangy, moldy one we threw out last year. But from the looks of the Gingerbread Adventures, which is to say it appears geared towards children, it was worth 80 dollars to skip the walk across the grounds to find out the truth.

Just beyond the gift shop stood a cluster of trees -- OK, it's a botanical garden, there are trees everywhere. But just beyond the gift shop, the "reflecting pool" had sprouted a stand of evergreens, which had then been bedazzled with lights and ornaments for the holidays.

Reflecting trees

It is just me, or does that look like a rather tiny reflecting pool? I mean, to me, this is a reflecting pool. Here, it looks like they built a foot-high wall around a depression in the middle of this plaza where water tends to collect and called it a reflecting pool.

Anyway, after that, we were off, back across the river to New Jersey and lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Englewood before taking the bus into Manhattan so we could indulge in wine at dinner and not have to worry about driving home.

On Sunday, after seeing a hilarious play which I may elaborate upon later, we parted ways, and once I had a moment to myself, I fired up the Xbox and began my recent quest to conquer six races in Burnout.

Reflecting in the reflecting pool