Friday, November 30, 2012

on whisk(e)y

I think my buddy Mike might appreciate Charles's recent post on Liminality, which begins as a narrative of what Charles and his wife did on a rare free Saturday, but morphs into an engrossing discourse on whisk(e)y.

ADDENDUM: Here's an interesting article on the "whiskey/whisky" spelling conundrum. The orthographic rule isn't simple, although the article does end with a simple (or quite possibly oversimplified) mnemonic.


food assault: "Thursday's almoço"

Portuguese is close enough to Spanish for me to recognize that almoço is the equivalent of the Spanish almuerzo, i.e., lunch. My brother David, despite the hectic wedding preparations he must be involved in, has taken time out of his day to provide me with three photos ("Thursday's almoço," he calls it in his email) of today's lunch in Fortaleza, Brazil (Fortaleza is Brazil's third-largest city, and his wife's hometown). Without further ado (hover your cursor over the image to see David's commentary):

Still wishing I were in Brazil right now.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

attack of the FOOD

More pics from my brother David's lunches while he's in Fortaleza, Brazil. David's getting married (well, re-married, I suppose) this coming Friday; we and his wife Patricia were already officially married this past March, but this Brazil-based wedding is for Patricia's relatives, and is also, apparently, for some sort of legal reason that I don't quite understand (why would Brazil not recognize a marriage performed in America?).

Hover your cursor over the images to read David's emailed commentary on each delicious dish. Day 2 lunch:

Day 3 lunch ("Wednesday's almoço," writes David):

Day 4 lunch:

A quick note: anyone familiar with Brazilian-style rodízio (steakhouse) dining in the US has seen the coaster-like disks that say "Yes, please!" and "No, thanks!" on either side. These give the servers a chance to know whether you're too stuffed to eat or ready to soldier onward. In the above photo, you see such a disk: "SIM, por favor!" means "Yes, please!" in Portuguese.


tonight, my sweet

Tonight, I'll be slapping up even more pics of my brother David's unending Brazilian feast. The boy keeps sending me photos from Fortaleza.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

on tenterhooks

I'm still waiting to hear back from Sungkyunkwan University as to whether my employment application has made it to the interview round. As you can imagine, I'm getting somewhat antsy about this, given that SKKU irrationally requires interviewees to appear in person-- no Skype interviews allowed. Since my friend Tom is providing me the plane ticket to Seoul, if needed, the situation is unfair to him as well: the longer we wait, the more likely it is that Tom's going to have to rush that ticket to me. I expect this situation, in typically Korean fashion, to resolve itself only at the last minute. Tom wrote me two days ago to say that the résumés hadn't even been screened yet: "The guy in charge is slow and new," Tom wrote. That doesn't sound promising.

In any event, I hope to hear good news sometime this week. And as for that "new" guy... his name is Lee, and he's the same bloke whose name was on the job ad this past May. Does that still make him "new"?


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ave, Skippy!

Chalk up another one for Camille Paglia. Skippy quotes:

A new study has put to bed the perception that female porn stars have low self-esteem and are less psychologically healthy compared with other women.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Sex Research, said it found no evidence to support the "damaged goods hypothesis" that actresses involved in the porn industry come from desperate backgrounds. Rather, the researchers found the women have higher self-esteem, a better quality of life and body image, and are more positive, with greater levels of spirituality.

The study was conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University, Texas Woman’s University and the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation

For my own recent insights on female exploitation (and the Camille Paglia connection), see this comment here.


a Brazilian luncheon (courtesy of my brother David)

And the foodblogging continues! Considering how much food I've assaulted you with in recent days, we should call this foodflogging. Anyway, here are some pics sent to me by my brother David, who's currently in Brazil with his lovely bride Patricia, enjoying good eats made by the in-laws. David and Patricia got married in a tiny ceremony this past March; they're in Brazil to have a full-scale wedding-- a way to make things "official" for the traditionalists in Patricia's family. To add to the insanity, D and P are planning to have a third wedding-- also full-scale-- once they're back in the States. That's supposed to happen next year.

But back to our muttons. Here's the food. Captions are visible if you hover your cursor over each image (labels were provided by David in his email).

Too bad I'm not in Brazil right now. David's in-laws-- well, my in-laws, too-- seem like very cool people.


Monday, November 26, 2012

crash course in Buddhist architecture

I'm sure my friend Nathan, who has taken extensive photos of Korean-style Buddhist temples (here and here, for example), would be fascinated by the similarities and differences (mostly differences!) between Korean Mahayana and Thai Theravada Buddhist temple architecture-- on display at this post of Justin Yoshida's. For my money, I couldn't get over the flooring in the Thai temple. No wood anywhere! Just cold stone! Theravada's harsh, man.


"free" doesn't mean free

Says the doctor about Obamacare: "Free" has its price.

Obama was right in stating you can keep your doctor if you want to — the problem is he or she will rarely be available.


I have received interesting responses from my patients since I put up the notice [about Obamacare's policies]. Almost all are supportive and totally understand. The very few who complain? The same patients who always ask for free samples, who always complain that we do not validate parking. These are also the same patients who call my office and ask for free samples even when they are not even being seen.

A lot of people seem convinced that "free" services are possible and should be made available. They keep forgetting that these "free" services come out of everyone's taxes. Since not everyone is sick at the same time, this means that the many are constantly paying for the health care of the few. The same goes for public transportation and other public services. To call these services "free" is to reveal a facile understanding of the flow of money.


anonymous charity (or something)

Did someone send me a very beat-up copy of Michael Moorcock's The War Hound and the World's Pain? The shipping date on the invoice is October 1. The book is listed, laughably, in "Used - Very Good" condition (it's actually ready to fall apart). The package, sent via DHL Global Mail, was addressed to "Kevin XXXX or Current Resident." The invoice lists the itemized cost (which makes me think this wasn't meant as a gift: when you click the "gift" option on, say,, all indications of cost are removed from the recipient's invoice):

Book: $0.01
Shipping & Handling: $3.99
Tax: $0.00
Total: $4.00

Very strange. So I'm left wondering whether a faithful reader quietly sent me a random fantasy book with no accompanying explanatory message, or whether the book's arrival represents an even more random happenstance.

Uh... thanks, I think.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

delectable aftermath

Ah, the awful tragedy of leftovers. Below, we see a panful of Thanksgiving remainders that I had to take back with me: David and Patricia left for Brazil for two weeks (they're having a second wedding ceremony, primarily for Patricia's relatives and friends), so they didn't want any Turkey Day leftovers stuck in their fridge, where they would only rot. Dr. Steve drove the leftovers back to my apartment in Appalachia, to be stuck in my fridge, while I ferried the happy couple to Dulles Airport for their evening flight.

This was yesterday's lunch-- heated in a pan at 375 degrees for twenty minutes:

Then re-plated:

Today's enormous lunch wasn't much different. Ma coupe déborde. I can look forward to many more lunches, just like this, in the days to come.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 in 7 frames

On Thursday, the weather was bright and gorgeous-- the best possible conditions in which to celebrate Thanksgiving. Here are some images from yesterday. First up-- the completed choucroute alsacienne, whose cooking I had to accelerate by raising the temperature from 375 to 450 degrees. The smell of all that aromatic meat, with an undercurrent of beer and kraut, pervaded my apartment and nearly drove me to distraction. Here's what the fully cooked end product looked like:

Below, David's baby-spinach salad, with red onions. Not pictured: goat cheese, dried cranberry sprinkles, toasted walnuts, and a delicious, homemade citrus salad dressing.

Below: the bird itself, with its "Dune"-style Harkonnen heart plug popped out. David had bought a modest-sized bird for four people; although it was his first time ever cooking a turkey by himself, he did a great job.

Next, we see David and the lovely Patricia at work. David's making the salad, and Patricia is doubtless conjuring up something magical:

David was initially leery about carving the turkey, but he did a better job than I might have done in his place. I gave him some pointers on where and how to cut, content in my hands-off role as knife coach.

And now for a little "Before and After." Below, we see the table before everything went on it...

...and below, in our final frame, we see the table's having gone from zero to Groaning Board:

The honor roll of dishes visible in the picture above, starting from the back and working our way forward:

Dr. Steve (not eaten)
baked potatoes (choucroute)
cranberry sauce
sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping
homemade garlic-and-parmesan mashed potatoes
pork sirloin (part of the choucroute)
turkey (white and dark meat)
another individual bowl of salad
Dr. Steve's Wegmans mac-and-cheese
sauerkraut (from which choucroute gets its name)
brown gravy
two more salads
biscuits (a bit overdone, but still quite edible)
piles of sausage and bacon
stuffing (quickly made by yours truly)

Not pictured: homemade rum cake, and two Wegmans pies (courtesy of Dr. Steve)-- apple and pumpkin.

I hope your own Thanksgiving celebrations went well yesterday, and that today finds you resting comfortably, still digesting a magnificent meal.


Friday, November 23, 2012

fabulous Thanksgiving

My brother and his wife are off to Brazil as I write this; they left from Dulles Airport on the evening of Thanksgiving Day. Earlier on, Dr. Steve and I had enjoyed a fabulously decadent Turkey Day luncheon with David and Patricia; I've got plenty of photos as proof.

More soon.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

choucroute: pre-launch

Here's that promised pile of meaty goodness, awaiting oven insertion:

The choucroute alsacienne is now dans le four: 375˚F for 90 minutes. After that, I take the lovely mess out of the hot box, let it cool a few minutes, then drive the whole thing over to Alexandria for a Thanksgiving lunch that's slated to begin at noon.

As you can see, the size of the choucroute is huge-- easily enough to feed three or four times as many eaters as will be partaking today (we're only four), so I'm anticipating big-time leftovers for future pleasant eats.

I'm prepping the whole thing at one time instead of doing it in pieces, per most choucroute recipes. I like the idea that the beer at the bottom of the pan will evaporate and infuse the meat above it (I've got tin foil covering the roasting pan for the first 45 minutes of cooking), and that the various meats' drippings will, meanwhile, flow downward into the sauerkraut and infuse it with gloriously meaty flavor. The kraut, enhanced with bay and ground cloves, will get a rinsing at David's place; the meat and potatoes, meanwhile, will be piled onto platters for consumption. And yeah, I'm bringing good mustard.

I'll be taking a pic of the finished product, but I probably won't have time to post it, since I'll be rushing out the door a few minutes after the choucroute is done.


gearing up

I'm going to be cooking my choucroute either tonight or early tomorrow morning, as I'm supposed to be over at my brother David's house in Alexandria by 11:30AM or noon, and David's oven is going to be stuffed with a turkey. Rather than fight for oven space, I decided it would be better to prep the victuals here in Appalachia.

In prep-related news: having been duly warned about the dangers of bad beer by my buddy Mike, I've decided to toss the two remaining Heinekens (that's an awful brand, by the way; how does anyone drink that piss?) in favor of buying either two replacement bottles of beer or perhaps a bottle of wine.

I promise a photo of all the meaty glory once the choucroute has been cooked. Depending on how amenable folks are to being digitally captured, I may have other pics of tomorrow's Thanksgiving celebration/shenanigans as well.

Can't say whether I'll be posting anything more today, so if you don't hear from me, I wish all of you readers-- the faithful and the sporadic, the frequent commenters and the silent lurkers-- a very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be. It's already Thanksgiving Day for Americans in Korea, so to that crowd, too, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving. May you all, everywhere, find yourselves surrounded by family and friends, cheer and goodwill. Eat much turkey, exchange many warm hugs and funny stories, and for God's sakes, save room for pie.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

does attitude affect outcome?

I had a bizarre discussion with a new student of mine yesterday. She had been given the task of writing thesis sentences based on SAT essay prompts, and one such prompt had to do with the question of whether attitude affects outcome. The prompt began with a quote from Henry Ford, something to the effect that "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right." (This quote appears in various forms when you Google it; I'm not sure which version is correct.) My student had written a series of three thesis sentences, all of which rejected the idea that attitude affects outcome. Her reasoning: it's possible to be convinced that you're going to fail at a task, but to succeed at that task nonetheless. Taken in the abstract, I suppose such a situation is possible, but the student's explanatory example was plain weird: imagine that Person A tells Person B that he (i.e., A) can't climb Mount Everest. Person B, trying to be encouraging, denies this and insists that A can do it. Person A then decides to attempt the ascent as a way to disprove B's insistence that A can succeed. A then succeeds at the climb, proving that A's negative attitude was irrelevant to A's success (and, ironically, proving B right along the way).

"But didn't A's attitude-- one of challenge, one of trying to disprove a claim-- affect A's outcome?" I asked. My point was that the example was unrealistic: people aren't that complex.* Who climbs Everest to prove that s/he can't climb Everest? And doesn't the desire to prove others wrong constitute an attitude that can affect an outcome?

I've heard the opposite case many times: someone conceives of a project, then is told by everyone around him not to pursue it because it's doomed to failure. The person pursues his dream, anyway, and succeeds. Many success stories contain that component: proving the doubters wrong. As scenarios go, that one strikes me as both far more common and far simpler: the motivation to succeed at something isn't hard to explain, as it's merely a function of the eros of the spirit.

Anyway, I told the student that her attitude was interesting. "Interesting" is of course, a label we use when we disagree or dislike. I have the feeling that my student ascribes overly complex motives to people who, in general, really aren't that hard to understand.

*Unless they're characters in a Stephen R. Donaldson novel.


parfois il faut des compromis

A proper choucroute alsacienne follows the Alsatian flavor profile, which leans heavily toward the Germanic. French cuts of pork and sausages like saucisse de Montbéliard are jumbled together with choucroute (sauerkraut) and big, hefty baking potatoes. Herbs, seasonings, and aromatics like bay, cloves, onions, and juniper also make appearances. A typical recipe for choucroute alsacienne might look like this (from here):

2 kg de choucroute (sauerkraut)
3 ou 4 oignons (onions)
1 ou 2 échalotes (shallots)
1 vingtaine de baies de genièvre (juniper berries)
2 cuillères à café de baies de coriandre (coriander seeds)
2 cuillères à café de cumin (ou carvi) (cumin or caraway)
1 peu de poivre (black pepper)
sel (salt)
1 palette fumée (a cut of pork that looks like this)
1 kg de lard à cuire (bacon cut)
1 douzaine de viennoises (basically, franks)
8 montbéliards (Montbéliards are smoked, fatty, and look like this)
1,5 kg de pommes de terre (potatoes)
1/2 l de bière blonde (blonde beer, pale ale)
1/2 l d'eau (water)

I can't find all those luscious French products-- not where I live, anyway. So I've got to compromise. On today's shopping run, I bought:

Kirkland dinner franks (in place of the viennoises)
ham steaks
thick-cut bacon
pork sirloin tip roast (in place of la palette fumée)
large baking potatoes
2 types of grainy mustard


...and I'll be sprucing the cooking up with my two remaining bottles of Heineken (from-- Jesus-- two Thanksgivings ago!), plus some cloves, cumin, bay leaves, and onion.

I think the above mix of meats will turn out OK. It's just that sometimes, you have to make compromises.


Monday, November 19, 2012

possible good news from afar

I got this cryptic email from my buddy Tom just now:


The head teacher is talking to the office today for your recommendation. If needed, you need to be here. On the 8th of decision, I think.

That is your daily update.


I wrote back:


Thanks for the update. Not sure what "for your recommendation" means. The head teacher saw my file and is recommending me to the Powers That Be? If so, that's mighty kind of him/her. Also not sure what "on the 8th of decision" means. Sounds as if you're talking about cricket. Heh. Does it mean that "a decision will be made by December 8th"? Or does it mean I currently rank 8th in the candidate pool?

Thanks in advance for clarifications!


So now I'm on tenterhooks. At a guess, Tom means, first, that the head teacher is asking the higher-ups to consider me, and second, that I'll need to be in Korea on December 8 for the interview... which really isn't that far away. No time for me to lose 50 pounds and appear more svelte for the sit-down.

UPDATE: I got the following reply from Tom:

I believe that the interview Is on the 8th.

He wants a good fit for office. I td him all about the big h.

I responded:

Thanks, man. Please let me know whether I even MAKE it to the interview round.

That clears up the second issue, but not the first issue.

UPDATE 2: Tom wrote back:

Of course!

You made to second round last time I heard........

That's interesting. I wonder what made them dump me last time. Credentials, perhaps? I don't have any TESOL/TEFL/ESL/EFL/CELTA certificates or degrees, but I have gone through Georgetown University's certificate program for foreign language teacher training. I made sure to note that fact this time around.


felled by primate curiosity

Over at Planet Bratfink, Ruth has posted an animated GIF of a woman sitting next to a recumbent hound. She rubs the dog's tummy, then lifts the tip of its tail to get a peek at its butt. What happens next is pure karma: liquid shit shoots nastily out of the dog's ass, spraying the woman's snow-white turtleneck in a violent recapitulation of a Jackson Pollock. The spraying takes a mere fraction of a second, and the woman jumps in startlement.

My question is: why did the woman want a peek at the dog's asshole to begin with? What morbid (or prurient) interest led her anus-ward? Whatever the motive, her sinful intentions are now recorded indelibly on her shirt. If Nathaniel Hawthorne had had the runs while writing The Scarlet Letter, he'd have penned such a story.

To misquote Nietzsche:

When you stare into the Abyss, the Abyss sometimes shoots back.


Ave, Aaron!

Aaron McKenzie on the "lazy worship of poverty" by travel writers-- see here. A therapeutic must-read for a certain misguided subset of the US population.


la farce

Some homemade stuffing I conjured into existence, along with homemade gravy, this morning:


beef fat
minced onions
dashida (Korean beef bouillon)


cornbread-and-herbs packet
celery seeds
minced onions
oven-dried apples (mandolin-sliced, then broiled to desiccation)
sausage-- cooked separately, drained, and crumbled

Veddy nice, veddy nice.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

this Monday, many Sundays, and the future

I've said yes to working this coming Monday in return for taking the Saturday after Thanksgiving off. It occurs to me that I haven't had a proper vacation-- by which I mean a week or more off-- since I began working for YB. The problem, of course, is that I work part-time for an hourly wage, not on a salary, so there's no such thing as paid leave. To go on vacation is to lose money, so I have to keep on treading water.

I've also received an offer of private tutoring-- two students for two hours on Sundays. Not a bad gig, I hope; these are older Korean kids needing some ESL help. I'm still in the intro/negotiation phase; there are many particulars to work out, but in the meantime, I'm happy that my slow-but-steady networking at the local Korean barbershop has paid off.

Regarding the future: I've sent in my application to Sungkyunwan University (SKKU). Who knows what'll happen this time? Last time I tried this, several months ago, my application was basically ignored-- I received no reply from the university at all, not even an acknowledgement of receipt. That was pretty damn rude. I'm hoping for better this time: I'm hoping at least to make it to the interview round. My buddy Tom has said he'd be willing to fund a trip to Korea for interview purposes. It's been a few years since last I was there; I left the peninsula in 2008, and I'm sure a lot has changed, as it always does in that society.

While I await the results of my application's submission, I can indulge in some fantasizing. As much as I like my current job, which is, all in all, quite a pleasant-- and even fun-- gig, I'm jonesing for a return to a faculty position at a Korean uni: three- to four-month paid vacations, fifteen hours per week of actual work (sure, there's lesson planning, student consultation, and other ancillary duties, but nothing too burdensome), health insurance, and a measure of creative control over my own curriculum. Plus, there's the option of teaching during vacation, which means earning at least double my normal pay during a given month.

Were I to get the SKKU gig, I can tell you what path my life would take: the first year would be spent saving up at least $10,000 to put down as "key money" on a respectable apartment (the so-called "officetel") in downtown Seoul. The next few years would be spent saving up money to start paying down massive chunks of my scholastic debt-- an obligation that hobbles me financially. I don't want to be an old man still saddled with debt; I'd like to be able to breathe freely for at least a few years before I kick off.

Ah, yes... a man can dream.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

what I'm shooting for

This ad currently appears on Dave's ESL Cafe. I'm applying. There are other university job offers, but they're all jokes compared to this one. Roughly $45,000/year to teach for nine months at 15 hours per week (plus some occasional extra work)? A hell of a lot better than my current gig at YB which, although nice, is seriously underpaid.

Attending the face-to-face interview is going to be a problem, though.

Sungkyunkwan University Job Opening March 2013

Sungkyunkwan University

Date: Wednesday, 14 November 2012, at 1:39 p.m.

Sungkyunkwan University seeks qualified, highly motivated Non-Tenure Track English Professor in its Language Institute. The University, founded in 1398, is one of the top universities in South Korea. The University is composed of two campuses: Seoul Campus (Humanities and Social Sciences) and Suwon Campus (Natural Sciences).

JOB TITLE : English Professor
LOCATIONS : Seoul/Suwon

- Be a native English speaker
- Have a Master's degree
- More than 2 years of college-level teaching experience preferred
(Particularly in English writing and presentation/public speaking)
- Experience in developing intensive English programs and a degree in related fields preferred.
- Have IT/Computer literacy (using presentation, spreadsheet and IT equipment)
- Should be able to attend the face-to-face interview

- Teaching credit classes for 15 hours per week
- Teaching non-credit classes during semesters and breaks, if asked
- Doing some class-related and administrative paperwork, and counseling students

Annual salary will be approximately 45 mil. won including special allowance for each full year of service.
- Additional hours beyond the contractual 15 hours per week are compensated at the overtime rate of 30,000 won.
- Overtime pay for teaching non-credit classes
- Korean National Health Insurance
- Private School Pension
- Shared office with individual PC and telephone
- One year, beginning March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014
- Renewable upon evaluation

- Non-Tenure Track English Professor Application (
- Current resume and cover letter (including picture)
- Copies of undergraduate and graduate diplomas and transcripts
- Copies of undergraduate and graduate transcripts
- Copies of your passport cover page and current visa
- Two or three recent letters of reference

Closing Date: November 23, 2012

Successful candidates will be interviewed at Seoul campus on Sat., December 8, 2012.

Documents should be e-mailed to:
Lee, Myeongin
Sungkyun Language Institute
Sungkyunkwan University

* Should you have any questions, please send e-mail to


Joe's Steakhouse

In my ongoing quest to find local restaurants that don't suck, I finally visited Joe's Steakhouse, a restaurant that, until late last year, had been little more than a derelict, sitting forlorn and abandoned on the outskirts of town. Suddenly, renovators swooped in and, with a sense of furious focus, rebuilt the place and turned it into something lively and cheerful. Even though I hadn't stepped inside Joe's until today, I saw, every time I passed the establishment on my way to Skyline Drive, its consistently full parking lot during the dinner hours.

So today, the notion of going to Joe's Steakhouse was something of an idée fixe for me. I had just gotten paid, had just gotten my car back from the body shop, and was in a cheerful mood thanks to the bright, sunny weather. Joe's, a restaurant to which I'd been intending to go for months, was foremost on my mind. So I went.

The first thing I noticed after walking up the beautiful flagstone steps was the electronic marquee-- a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the restaurant's dilapidated, low-tech past. The high-resolution screen flashed Joe's menu-- with prices visible, incredibly-- as well as a few ads. At the bottom of the screen, the resto's hours of operation were clearly marked. Joe's is, for most of the week, open only for dinner, but come the weekend (by which I mean Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), Joe's opens early. There's even Sunday brunch.

I had picked a quiet time to have lunch: about 1:30PM on a Friday afternoon. In fact, I think I may have been the only customer, which made me a freak of nature. I walked in and was greeted by an energetic host; he promptly seated me at a four-top (well, a two-top in this case) near a window:

I took a look around at the large-capacity room, imagining it full of happy diners:

As you can see in the above photos, Joe's Steakhouse isn't shy about alcohol. I was, in fact, offered a beer by the server while I waited. I ordered a Coke. My usual. Since I live and drive alone, I'm the designated driver.

Joe's ambience is very comfortable; the color scheme leans toward stained wood for the floor and deep burgundy for the walls. Steakhouse colors. The table arrangements make efficient use of the available floor space-- good feng shui.

I ordered the fried calamari appetizer, and I have to say... this was some of the best damn calamari I've had, short of Maggiano's in Tysons, Virginia, and Puccini in Seoul (actually, I'd eaten a frittura mista at Puccini, but it had calamari in it). Joe's Steakhouse breads its calamari lightly and tastefully, letting the squid speak for itself. The dish isn't over-fried, and no attempt has been made to accompany the rings and tentacles with any sauce other than a good marinara. I had been to two other restaurants, in recent months, whose calamari had been ruined by poor sauce choices. Joe's Steakhouse understands that, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Magnificent dish. And plentiful, too. See below.

Luckily for me, the courses didn't come out all at once-- a bad habit that some restaurants get into in an attempt to rush their customers and create faster turnover. Perhaps, since I was the only customer, the cook staff felt it could afford to pace things out. Whatever the case, they paced it right: in between the calamari and my main course, out came the bread (ciabatta) and Caesar salad:

I dug in to the above quite happily, and was already starting to feel pleasantly full when my main course arrived. I had ordered the "Ultimate Steak and Cake," a surf-and-turf combo of filet mignon and crab cake. To wit:

The server recommended ordering the steak medium-rare, which I did. My brother Sean, who lives life according to the rules of Dr. Atkins and thus has become something of a steak connoisseur, warned me long ago that many steakhouses have no notion of how to cook a steak to the proper doneness: Sean has eaten his share of overcooked slabs of meat. I'm happy to report that the chefs at Joe's know what they're doing: medium-rare was medium-rare. The steak had a beautiful, subtle char on the outside, and was rare and tender enough on the inside to do Dracula proud. The result was philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's definition of beauty: the harmony of contrasts. The crab cake was also quite nice-- soft and understated, not super-crispy.

By the time I had finished the surf-and-turf, I was becoming truly full. (To think that the restaurant had offered, as a special, a 42-ounce Porterhouse!) Undeterred, the server floated over with the dessert menu; I found myself torn between the chocolate cake and the cheesecake with strawberry sauce. I asked the server what he thought, and he immediately recommended the cheesecake. I didn't regret this. See the beauty below:

The cheesecake was butter-soft, with an equally soft crust, but whatever was lost in terms of textural contrast was easily compensated for by the contrast in flavor between the crust and the cake. The silky mouth-feel of the cheesecake was exquisite, and the dollops of cream at the four compass points of the plate were ready-made adjuncts, screaming to be spooned onto each bite of cheesecake. The strawberries in the strawberry sauce tasted garden-fresh (I have no idea whether they really were fresh, or were merely frozen), and retained a distinctively fruity texture.

Because Joe's is a steakhouse, I didn't expect the dining experience to be cheap, and it wasn't. My bill, before tip, was $46.79:

$1.95 Coke
$7.99 Calamari
$26.99 Steak & Cake
$5.99 Cheesecake
+ $3.87 Tax

Since I normally tip 20% out of respect for my brother David, who has served hard time in the food industry, I added $9.41 and paid a total of $56.20-- a lot for one person. But today was a special day, and with Thanksgiving on the way, I was in a bit of a festive mood. No more such indulgences until next year! In the meantime, I don't regret today's extravagance; Joe's Steakhouse proved its mettle, and was worth every penny.

The only thing missing from this fine, fine experience was the luminous presence of a pretty date sitting across the table from me. Then I wouldn't have needed the novel.



(cue music)

Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited 'cause we understood
There's one perfect fit and, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited 'cause we're reunited, hey-hey

At long last, I've been reunited with my tiny, tough Honda Fit. I visited the body shop this morning, did a brief walkaround to check out the work that had been done, paid my $250 deductible, and finally asked the nice lady to take a pic of me hugging my car:

It turns out that the left front tire, the one with the pebble in it, was perfectly fine-- no puncture at all. Meanwhile, the car got a new bumper, new wheel-well linings, a new radiator (and struts), a new condenser, a bit of new paint (though not everywhere: the left rear door still has a scratch on it), new alignment and spin-balancing, new wheel covers, and a few other minor tweaks-- all totaling over $3700, of which I paid only the deductible. On top of all this, Collision Experts offers a lifetime warranty on its work.

Later in the day, I found myself celebrating our reunion at Joe's Steakhouse (a magnificent joint, by the way-- blog post forthcoming), and when I left the resto, I took the following two shots of the fixed-up car:

Ah, faithful steed. We're back together again.

Enterprise slyly diddled me up the bum, though: I brought their Honda Civic back with a near-empty gas tank, so they charged me for gas, despite a handwritten note on my receipt that said "Bring back near empty." Thing is, they took this charge out of the $100 refund I should have gotten as a return on my security deposit, and ended up refunding me only $44. In other words, they charged me for fifty-six dollars in gas, and I know for a fact that that car can't hold more than 45 dollars' worth. My colon still feels the splinters from the surreptitious broomstick-reaming. Overall, I'd say that Enterprise's customer service is a mixed bag.

But in the end, it's all been in the service of getting me back with my one true love, and now we're reunited-- for good this time, I hope. No more hydroplaning, yes?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

car: ready to be picked up

The body shop called to tell me that my tiny Honda Fit is now ready to be picked up-- and a day early, at that. I replied via email, saying that I'd still need to pick the car up on Friday, since that's my payday, and I won't be able to pay the $250 deductible until I'm paid by YB. I'm sure the shop will have no trouble holding the car until Friday morning; they need only park it outside in their large parking lot out front.

So the plan remains the same as before: drive to Winchester on Friday morning, drop the rental off at Enterprise (where I hope to get a chargeback of $100 for the reduced security deposit that I had to pay for the rental extension), get driven by Enterprise to Collision Experts, pay my deductible to the body shop, then drive on home in my reFitted car, as if nothing had ever happened. Of course, I still owe some friends a mound of cash for helping me out, but that's something I can take care of over the next few pay periods, as long as the extra work keeps rolling in.

This weird liminal period's about to end, and life-- I hope-- will once again return to normal.


"The Hunger Games": review

"The Hunger Games" is an excellent study in intertextuality: it refers to almost everything. First, the film is based on Suzanne Collins's novel of the same name-- the first novel of a dystopic trilogy whose sequels are Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Second, "The Hunger Games" makes deliberate or inadvertent reference to films and literature like the Japanese "Battle Royale" and Stephen King's The Running Man, all of which share the theme of bloodthirsty, thanatotic media and/or governments. The notion of children killing children recalls William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Third, the movie has a mythological resonance, calling to mind (as Suzanne Collins herself noted) such notable figures as Theseus, heroic survivor of multiple dangerous exploits and changer of the world order.

Directed by Gary Ross, the movie follows the plot of Collins's novel fairly faithfully. Plucky sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the film's main point-of-view character. Katniss lives in the dystopic realm of Panem (an allusion to the Latin panem et circenses, i.e., bread and circuses to entertain the masses while the surrounding empire crumbles into decadence), where she is a citizen of District 12, a poor mining/industrial region that spans much of what used to be Appalachia. Katniss's sister, Primrose, is chosen to be a "tribute" at the Reaping, a yearly lottery to determine which two adolescents from each district will be chosen to fight in gladiatorial combat at the Hunger Games, a televised event from which only one youth may emerge the winner. Katniss offers herself up as a surrogate for her sister; meanwhile, baker's son Peeta Mellark (a fresh-faced Josh Hutcherson) is chosen as District 12's other tribute.

After the Reaping, the next chapter of the movie deals with the training of the tributes who, despite having effectively become lambs for the slaughter, are treated as celebrities while they undergo crash-course training in survival and combat. Tributes are given very public pre-Games interviews by the flamboyant Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci (pictured above). Peeta proves, as he does in the novel, able to manipulate public sentiment through his calculated wittiness and vulnerability; the brutally honest and unsentimental Katniss, meanwhile, is stiff in front of a crowd.

The rest of the film is devoted to the Games, and the desperate struggle for survival that ensues. Gary Ross's direction mirrors Suzanne Collins's no-nonsense style: the narrative is straightforward, and narrative technique takes a back seat to the themes that the story wishes to tackle: desensitization to violence, the disturbingly influential role that visual media play in our lives, and the cultural obsession with death. In the background churn political issues: Panem, as a dystopia, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to-- and can serve as a parable about-- North Korea. The Hunger Games are an exercise in control: purportedly initiated as punishment for a rebellion that had occurred over seventy-four years previously, the Games give the oppressed people of Panem an opportunity for cathartic distraction.

In all, I found "The Hunger Games" reasonably entertaining, though not great. Jennifer Lawrence is a stand-out as the deadly-serious Katniss; Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy is convincingly, chronically, hilariously inebriated; Liam Hemsworth barely registers as Katniss's hometown friend Gale. But for my money, the top acting prize goes to Stanley Tucci for his incredible turn as TV host Caesar Flickerman, a man whose job is to keep the masses entertained, and to smooth out the roughness caused by any balky guests on his glitzy talk show. Tucci's Flickerman is a damning commentary on modern American media: at times silly, at times solemn, and always self-aware, Flickerman passes so smoothly from one emotional extreme to another that we viewers barely notice how cartoonishly wide those emotional swings are. Flickerman, along with Donald Sutherland's nefarious President Snow, incarnates the fundamental sickness of the regime. Tucci manages the trick of masking deep cynicism with theatrical piety; his acting is easily the most interesting thing about this movie, and it's a shame he isn't given more screen time.

I'd say "The Hunger Games" is worth at least one viewing. The violence is disappointingly bloodless despite the bloody-minded concept behind the Games; the camera work is, at times, a bit too jittery, and the movie shies away from revealing the final horror of the novel: the mutant dogs that attack the surviving teens are genetically engineered echoes of the fallen children. But those faults aside, the movie stands up well on its own terms, and faithfully encapsulates all the same major themes with which the novel wished to grapple. See the film for Jennifer Lawrence's grit and Stanley Tucci's snake-in-the-garden charm. While not a classic, "The Hunger Games" is digestible entertainment.

ADDENDUM: My review of Suzanne Collins's trilogy is here.


death of a good friend

I've lost a faithful necktie: it was a flashy, abstract, blue/black/gray number that I had bought for cheap at Wal-mart many moons ago; it probably lasted about a year before it succumbed to time and use. I'm not sure whether anyone noticed that the blue tie I wore today was different from my usual tie; no one remarked on the change, at any rate, and it doesn't really matter whether the passing of a steadfast companion was seen.

The realization of my friend's death came suddenly earlier today, as I was whipping the tie around my neck: I noticed that the tie's bottom-- the fat end-- was wrinkled as if someone had pulled a string in the fabric and caused a bit of unraveling. That was, in fact, what had happened, but I'll be damned if I could say what, exactly, the tie had gotten snagged on. I tried to stretch and smooth the fabric out, but to no avail. The tie is effectively dead. Because I was in a rush to prep for work, I didn't have time to be sentimental, but now, in the quieter hours of early night, I have a moment to mourn. And to remember.

Rest in peace, faithful necktie.


when will the hammer fall?

I haven't had to teach Iblis for two straight weeks, possibly longer. It seems the teaching of Iblis has fallen almost exclusively to Lily (not her real name), a fact for which I feel somewhat guilty. Although I've never once told our supervisors that I refuse to teach the little monster, I have, I admit, been rather vocal about insisting that Iblis come only for one-hour sessions, and have also been quite frank about how I feel about the kid. It may be that the office has taken my whingeing into account, and has quietly decided to give the burden of Iblis to the ever-tolerant, never-whingeing Lily. This is a dismaying turn of events, because no one should be over-burdened with that kid. I don't exactly fear for Lily's sanity-- she's tough-- but I do worry about her general stress levels.

There's also the chance that the office is simply scheduling Iblis to be with Lily for no particular reason at all, in which case a certain karmic buildup is occurring and, like a cosmic dam bursting, I'll soon find myself having several Iblis-tainted sessions in a row. It's this latter scenario that makes me wonder when, exactly, the hammer is going to fall. In any case, I don't have Iblis this week. I'm morbidly curious to see whether my streak of luck continues in the weeks ahead.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

car: on schedule

I emailed Collision Experts earlier today to find out how the car was coming along, and whether I'd be able to pick it up on Friday morning. The reply I got said yes: Friday morning would be fine. That works well for me, as I'm supposed to drop off my Enterprise rental car on Friday morning. So I'll drop the rental off, get driven to the body shop, pick up my car, pay my $250 deductible, and zoom on home-- Fit once again.

Meanwhile, I'll be sad to lose the rental car I'm driving: the Honda Civic hybrid is quite, quite nice-- surprisingly roomy, smooth of ride, and easy to figure out, control-wise. I'll miss it.


once more unto the breach

My buddy Tom in Seoul tells me that Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), where he teaches, is once again looking to purge some English profs and hire new ones-- but not yet. So I'm waiting for Tom's signal to send over my application documents, all of which I'd filled out months ago in my first attempt at applying to SKKU. What I may do, just to pass the time, is render all the documents in PDF form and bind them together into a single, multi-page PDF. Much easier to send, and more straightforward to boot.

There's a chance that SKKU may require a face-to-face interview, which is the stupidest requirement I can think of. In that event, Tom has expressed a willingness to pay my airfare to Korea, although he says he'd need repayment "ASAFP." I'm not sure I can repay Tom that fast, so I'm hoping SKKU will content itself with a Skype interview.

We'll see. Always in motion is the future.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"The Avengers": review

Making a movie with an ensemble cast composed of beloved superheroes must present an interesting challenge to a scriptwriter. He has to give each character room to breathe while balancing all of the good guys against the one or two baddies who darken the tale. I'm pleased to say that the screenplay for "The Avengers" (2012) struck a decent balance, although perhaps at the cost of story logic: I was never quite sure whether the principal bad guy, the Asgardian Loki, was going to keep the Tesseract-- an extradimensional power source-- for himself or hand it over to The Other, i.e., the shadowy boss alien who had promised Loki an armada of Chitauri* warriors at the beginning of the film.

The basic premise of "The Avengers" is simple enough: a wormhole, powered by the aforementioned Tesseract, is set to open a gateway that will allow an invading alien force to swoop in and conquer Earth. Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, if you must know), has the difficult task of rounding up "Earth's mightiest heroes": the Hulk (Dr. Bruce Banner when not raging), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff, a Russian spy/assassin), Thor (fellow Asgardian and "brother" of Loki), Captain America (Steve Rogers), and Iron Man (Dr. Tony Stark). The movie takes us through several phases: every hero is intro'ed; they're all gathered; personality conflicts ensue; the conflicts are interrupted by Loki, and then comes the finale, in which the Avengers defend New York City-- and by extension, the world.

Rather than describe the plot in detail, I'd prefer to focus on other aspects of the film, beginning with character development. "The Avengers" is Joss Whedon's baby, and Whedon, who masterminded the quirky, wonderful "Firefly," is all about character. We quickly learn that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is world-weary but still idealistic enough to believe in heroes and heroism. We discover that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a special talent for interrogation, placing herself at a seeming disadvantage while her interlocutor spills his guts to her. Tony Stark (Robert Downey) comes off as a raging egomaniac, but he and Bruce Banner (an appealingly diffident Mark Ruffalo) spend a few minutes nerd-bonding-- a fact that will affect the Hulk's behavior during the film's action-packed climax, when Iron Man is in serious trouble. Captain America (Chris Evans) is cool under fire, but Stark's snark gets under his skin. Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is simultaneously concerned for fragile Earthlings and amused by their pettiness. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)-- when not enslaved by Loki (Tom Hiddleston)-- is a very troubled soul. These characters come off as convincingly flawed. Even the deities are human, and thus relatable.

Along with good character development, "The Avengers" offers spectacular special effects. I was especially impressed with the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, which is a vast improvement over the 1998 TV-movie carrier pictured on the left. The 2012 helicarrier has heft, not to mention a slew of nifty features, such as two split-level runways, vaulted hangar decks, a control center worthy of Admiral Adama, and an impressive, ejectable holding cell built to contain gods and monsters. Below, a picture of the movie version of the helicarrier:

The Chitauri warriors register as little more than "Halo" villains, but I love-- love!-- those nasty, giant, fanged, flying armored worms. According to the geek set, those worms are called Leviathans, although we never hear the term used in the movie. Here's one of my babies:

Superhero stories are a form of modern mythology. The heroes incarnate certain traits and qualities-- usually those qualities that we find, culturally speaking, to be the best or most noble. The enemies of such heroes thus have to be commensurately potent, which brings us to the film's main villain, Loki. Let's put aside my confusion as to Loki's (and Asgard's) ontological status and concentrate on Thor's brother's role as a trickster figure. My problem with "The Avengers" is that Loki doesn't come off as much of a trickster in this movie, although he does engage in playground-style chicanery on at least two occasions. Instead, Loki is murderous (eighty victims in two days), vengeful, and power-hungry. Far from being a playfully transgressive figure whose loyalties and motives are impossible to fathom, this film's Loki makes very clear that he seeks planetary dominion, as well as the chance to humiliate his adoptive brother, Thor. There's nothing playful-- or particularly Norse-- about him.

Loki is also problematic in terms of the place he occupies in the film. He's the villain who enjoys the most screen time, but he's also second fiddle to The Other, who takes a moment to, for lack of a better term, bitch-slap Loki for the latter's insolence. Loki has been given the use of a large Chitauri invasion force, but do the Chitauri truly answer to him, or to The Other? It's all very confusing. And what about Loki's quest for dominion over Earth? Are the Chitauri there merely to help Loki achieve his goal, or is The Other himself interested in ruling Earth? In the middle of the ending credits, we see The Other reporting to his boss, a large, strong-jawed alien named Thanos, who may figure in a sequel down the line. The Other tells Thanos that Earth's humans have turned out not to be cringing wusses, and that to attack Earth is to invite death-- a claim that brings a hungry smile to Thanos's face. This scene seems to imply that The Other is interested in dominating our planet, which leaves Loki... where, exactly?

In any event, I don't think the main focus of "The Avengers" is the conflict between good and evil: it's the interplay between and among the heroes. This is essentially a buddy movie writ large, and the payoff-- the greatest moment of bonding-- comes at the very tail-end of the ending credits, when we see the Avengers, tired and perhaps a little shell-shocked, sitting in various slumped postures around a restaurant table and munching on shawarmas while a staffer sweeps the floor in the background. No one says a thing; it's all about the contented chewing. The scene is pure Whedon, and it speaks volumes for how close these characters have become. For my money, this was the best scene in the whole movie.

So all in all, I liked "The Avengers." While it isn't a perfect film, especially in its portrayal of the bad guys, it has its earnest heart in the right place. A student of mine saw it in the theaters, and told me that the audience cheered loudly with each successive exploit. I'm sure "The Avengers" was a great audience movie; it has strong, well-developed protags, striking visuals, plenty of humor, and a plot that, while not as coherent as it could have been, hurtles forward faster than Iron Man intercepting a nuke. Not a bad way to spend 150 minutes.

*"Chitauri" is an extraplanetary moniker that apparently means "gray and ugly." It's never established whether The Other is of the same race as the Chitauri, nor do we find out what the Chitauri get out of being used as chattel and cannon fodder. The script does an excellent job of guiding us through the tangled motivations of the good guys, but leaves the bad guys opaque.