Monday, February 27, 2006

Found some stuff.

Found an old disk buried in a desk drawer. It has some decently fun, old stuff on it.

The above photo is Kacoon's son Midget, taken at Chuck E. Cheese on his third birthday. Now, he's 6.

This is a very small version of a photo I took during my photojournalism class in 1997, which I called 'Matt with Hat and Book' because the guy's name is Matt, he's wearing a hat and holding a book. At the time, I considered it my best photo. Since then, I feel like I've taken better ones. I just really liked the shadow across his face and the pants in the store window behind him.

Finally, this is a cropped photo of me from 1999, when I worked for the newspaper in Augusta. It was taken of me at a picnic, I think, of this "Red Hat"-style women's group from one of the churches there. All the women at that picnic were really sweet, plying me and my photographer - who took the shot of me - with lots of dessert. If I had the uncropped version of this photo, you'd see one of the nice ladies standing next to me in a 1920s-era bathing suit, and this story would make more sense. But the photo triggered the memory, so I figured I would write it down.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My practice reading.

My reading of "Prayer of the Waffle House Faithful," as it's now called, went exceedingly well yesterday during the Phi Kappa 186th anniversary meeting. The applause seemed genuine, not just polite, and some people did the "WOO!" thing for me as I finished.

Afterward, four or five people complimented the piece and told me that my reading, which wasn't nervous or shaky or uncertain, went really well.

All in all, great trip to Athens. (Even if the battery light is now blinking in my car. Oh well, no weekend can go perfectly.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Things to do when Paul Walker is without dogs.

- RUNNING SCARED, this week's new movie featuring the really pretty Paul Walker and his eight below, is about a gun-runner for the mob who loses a weapon over and over and then has to track it down to save his life. The reviews have been decent, and it sounds, honestly, like a lot of fun. Of course, when I first heard about it, I thought they were remaking RUNNING SCARED with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and I wondered if they were going to bring back Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom" for the soundtrack. Thankfully, I was mistaken.

- After reading a couple stellar reviews and having about a dozen customers ask me for it before it was released stateside, I picked up Arctic Monkeys' debut album, WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT'S WHAT I'M NOT, and it's big, loud and fun. It's not the sort of music I usually go for. (For instance, nobody in it sounds like they need Prozac.) But I ain't mad at it.
- Last night, I was so impressed with this website I found, I ordered a pizza just to be sure that I tipped someone properly. Fear not. I am not considering a career change.
- Tomorrow, the Phi Kappa Literary Society, the greatest student organization I found while at UGA, is holding its anniversary meeting, and I'm heading to Athens to attend it with an old essay in tow. If I can battle my way to the lectern, they'll let me read it. And they may be kind.

- This week, curious about what happened to the character Jake Gittes after CHINATOWN, I sat and watched the Jack Nicholson-directed sequel, THE TWO JAKES. Unfortunately, the sequel kinda annoyed me. I knew exactly what it was and exactly where it was going, the exact opposite of the great CHINATOWN. The Roman Polanski original from 1974 is one of the most twisted, fun, sick, bizarre, crazy, great movies I've ever seen. And if you've never seen CHINATOWN, then you really oughta treat yourself. As for THE TWO JAKES, well, it's no CHINATOWN.

- MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION hits theaters this weekend. Last I checked, I'm still white. Thus, Tyler Perry, I surrender this week's box office to you.

- AQUAMAN, our favorite gay superhero, is getting his own show in the fall. The creators of SMALLVILLE are behind the show, and they've decided that the new man in tights will be former PASSIONS star Justin Hartley. Thank you, creators of SMALLVILLE. Get him as wet as possible.
- Emily Giffin's new novel, BABY PROOF, is available for pre-order, and she's a friend of mine. Buy it.
- The Center for Puppetry Arts still rocks. Visit their website. Go build a puppet in a workshop.
- Finally, in the spirit of Bart Simpson, the governor of California, Steve Urkel and Cartman, I've decided that I need my own catchphrase. You know, I need my own "Whatchutalkin'bout, Willis?" Or an "Hasta la vista, baby!" THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: You've come a long way, baby. You deserve your own catchphrase. So what are you gonna do? Do you feel lucky, punk? What's your own, personal catchphrase?

On English majors.

This sentence results from a Gmail chat between Paul and me. I said it. I am proud.

"What do you mean you can't speak to English majors? When they say, 'Welcome to Starbucks,' tell them you want a latte."

Loved this.

I read DEAR ABBY. This one, from earlier this week, may be the best ever:

DEAR ABBY: I am in the process of going through a divorce. He is with someone else now, and they are having a baby. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I still talk. Every time we do, he asks me if I still want to have sex with him.

I still love him, but I am no longer IN love with him. What should I tell him when he asks if I still want to have sex with him? -- WONDERING IN HAYSVILLE, KAN.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

I misspelled "Dave Eggers." I know.

I sent this cover letter, along with a revised version of "Every Now and Then ...," to McSweeney's print submissions division, then caught my ghastly, horrible spelling error. Them's the breaks.

Dear McSweeney's editor who happens to check this mailbox,

Your website says that you don't generally publish memoir, aside from some exceptions. (The exception probably being pieces written by Dave Eggars.) I understand that and, yet, am sending you this short piece anyway. It's probably unwise to point out at the beginning of a cover letter that I know what I'm sending doesn't really qualify. Please find such audacity amusing, I beg you. I want to be published.

I've heard from friends that this piece is pretty funny and is something they'd recommend to others if it were published. (They might be lying to me, and sending it along for formal consideration is a way to shut them up.)

There's a wholly obnoxious pseudonym on the submission. Feel free to laugh at it. I got it from a Lightning Seeds song.

I hope you enjoy this story about an embarrassing moment from my childhood more than the countless other stories about embarrassing moments from other childhoods that you've probably read. The first sentence of this very paragraph may not be grammatically correct.

Everyone probably writes you something quirky to make an impression. Hope mine worked.



DOMINO's tasty.

Yesterday, my co-worker Jeremy was looking at the DVD case for DOMINO, then praised Keira Knightley's beauty and announced he had a crush on her. Then, he lifted the case up to his face and pretended to rip open the wrapping with his teeth.

"I love Keira Knightley," he said to me in appreciation, holding the sealed DVD.

"It appears so," I said, unintentionally. "You look like you want to lick the box."

Jeremy smiled and said, "Why yes, YES I DO!"

I think I blushed.


Last night at the bookstore, I read a memo from corporate that said some of the DVDs of RENT, released Tuesday, were defective. Apparently, the flaw is that some of the copies have two of the "bonus disc" DVDs, instead of the movie and one "bonus disc."

The memo inspired me to grab a Post-It and write addenda to the list of "defective RENT" qualifications.

* In some cases, customers complained that the movie they received instead of RENT was actually good.
* In some defective copies, Rosario Dawson's vocals may be dubbed by Marni Nixon.
* Defective copies of RENT instead promote rampant heterosexuality.
* WARNING: Some discs may contain HIV.
* Cast "duet" with Il Divo not included.
* Defective DVDs may qualify for RENT payback.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I heart Nellie Oleson.

Things to do while Willow dances in a fat suit.

- DATE MOVIE, which stars BUFFY alum Alyson Hannigan and is a play upon the cliches of other, countless romantic comedies, hits theaters today, conveniently after Valentine's Day. It appears to play upon everything from SHALLOW HAL and WEDDING CRASHERS to KILL BILL, the awful NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and SAY ANYTHING ... I'm not sure what I'll think of this movie. It wasn't screened for critics.

- WHY WE FIGHT, a new documentary about the U.S. "military industrial complex" - a term coined by Eisenhower - and how it sways foreign policy, hits the Landmark this weekend. Its reviews have been solid, and it's been a while since I caught a good, thought-provoking political documentary designed to make me angry.

- When it comes to Paul Walker, the only EIGHT BELOW I'm interested in seeing is below his belt. I am not a dog person. I don't care to see a movie about rescue dogs in Antarctica who nearly freeze to death, particularly one made by Disney. Any movie that features Paul Walker but doesn't feature a shower scene is a waste. All the dogs in this movie, in all likelihood, live through their ordeal. Nobody would dare make a dead dog movie.
- Justin Tussing's debut novel THE BEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD has received some good notices from USA Today and the New York Times. It's about a high schooler who starts an affair with his teacher, then goes on the run with her.
- Last night, I tried writing a short story. You know, just starting one. I thought I had a good idea. For two hours, I sat in front of my laptop, the screen practically blank. I hate when this happens. I have all these books that are supposed to help me: Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Stephen King's ON WRITING, William Zinsser's ON WRITING WELL and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. Nothing helps. I wanted to write something for class Monday. I thought it would be fun. Instead, I ended up screaming myself to sleep. This probably explains why Hemingway shot himself.
- Mystery writer Jeff Lindsay recently published DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER, a sequel to DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER. The fun of these novels is the protagonist, a forensics expert named Dexter Morgan who - in his spare time - is a serial killer. Dexter is a severely damaged man with no relatable emotions, but he pretends well. He's funny. Other characters in the books think he's really nice. And he murders people with a flair. The books are being adapted into a TV series for Showtime, and Michael C. Hall from SIX FEET UNDER is attached to star as Dexter.
- Several friends of mine have now read CELL, the new horror novel from Stephen King. They've called it bloody, horrifying fun. I've never actually read a Stephen King book, not even the one I mentioned above in this list, but this one sounds cool.

- FREEDOMLAND, in spite of its stellar cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore and Edie Falco, probably sucks. The reviews have been bad. It's directed by Joe Roth, after all, and that guy can't direct at all. I mean, he made CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS and AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS, which is one of the worst movies featuring good people that I've ever seen.

- My friend Kacoon tells me that, to her surprise, HOODWINKED was hilarious. The plot sounds like LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD meets RASHOMON, and the voice talent, featuring Glenn Close and Anne Hathaway, is strong. I've missed this in theaters for weeks, but it's been a sleeper hit.
- Since I cannot write a story of my own, I'm going to indulge in the other people's stories for inspiration. Writers I recommend, above others, are John Cheever, Roald Dahl and J.D. Salinger. If you want stuff with a feminine or Southern or Southern feminine flair, try THE COLLECTED STORIES OF KATHERINE ANNE PORTER or THE COMPLETE STORIES OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR. THE COLLECTED STORIES OF WILLA CATHER is another favorite. And this week, someone recommend A.S. Byatt's ELEMENTALS to me, thinking it might help me build ideas. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Everyone who's been through an English class has at least read one short story. And if you've read more than two short stories in your life, then you probably have a favorite. You may not remember the exact title or the person who wrote it. At the very least, though, you remember a character or a plot or a really, really excellent twist at the end of a spooky story. Tell me about it. What's your favorite short story? Which stories' twists have freaked you out the most? What story meant the most to you? Why did you like it?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cheney's got a gun.

The vice president shot someone over the weekend. Now I can't get that Aerosmith song outta my head.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Things to do instead of the Olympics.

- Tonight, though you'll probably be watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Torino Winter Olympics, Fox is airing two hours worth of new ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT episodes as the show's "season finale." Essentially, this is the last you'll likely see of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT unless it gets picked up by another network, like Showtime or something. Airing its final episodes against the start of the Olympics seems unfair, but Fox has tried and tried to find a way for people to watch the show. And no one does. (I tend to watch the DVDs, not the show itself, for the show works best if you can watch three or four episodes at a time, and that's the opportunity Fox is giving tonight.) Anyway, tonight's episodes feature Justine Bateman (as Jason Bateman's long-lost sister) and Judge Reinhold (as a judge), so expect them to be very funny.

- If you've not seen CAPOTE yet and were thinking about seeing it on the big screen, find a theater where it's playing, and go this weekend. I think it's the lowest-grossing film currently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the title character, and he has a shot at the Best Actor Oscar. It's gone to more theaters in the past couple weeks, so there's a chance that it's playing near you. But that probably won't last, for the DVD release is coming soon. See it in theaters. It's really dark, but it's very good.

- Kacoon and I have been planning for weeks to see the likely awful, absurd FINAL DESTINATION 3, and it's finally in theaters this weekend. I'm not sure which is going to be my favorite: the roller coaster deaths, the tanning bed deaths, the nailgun deaths, the gym workout deaths, the fireworks deaths or the train deaths. I just appreciate the opportunity to watch how complicated and bizarre the deaths are. When Kacoon and I go, we're bringing her pregnant sister with us. I hope the roller coaster scene isn't hazardous to her health.

- Harrison Ford seriously needs to stop appearing in the same damn movie. Once again, he's in a thriller where he gets to beat people up to save his family. At least in AIR FORCE ONE, he was the President of the United States ... and he didn't look so elderly. In FIREWALL, he apparently plays a bank's tech-support guy. This time, Paul Bettany, who deserves better than this movie, and a gang of robbers kidnap Ford's family, and Ford has to shout "DON'T HURT MY FAMILY!!" and run around beating people up. Been there, done that. Ford needs to appear in an independent movie. Ford needs to take on a MOSQUITO COAST-type role. Maybe he should work with Peter Weir again. He needs to remind viewers why we care about him. He needs to prove once again that he can act.
- Kaye Gibbons is signing copies of THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME, her sequel to ELLEN FOSTER, at the Margaret Mitchell House next week. ELLEN FOSTER was a short book, one of Oprah's chosen, so I imagine someone somewhere out there read it and would be interested in its sequel.

- CURIOUS GEORGE looks bright, cheery and fun, just like the books my little brother devoured ages ago, and the Jack Johnson soundtrack seems fittingly cool and upbeat. Of course, I can't think about CURIOUS GEORGE nowadays without remembering that my friend Mike thinks that CURIOUS GEORGE is racist. But that's a long story.
- Finally, next week is Valentine's Day, and all you lovey-dovey, google-eyed couples can burn in the everlasting fires of hell, for all I care. (Of course, you who come here for my delightful, requisite bitterness probably expected me to say that. I don't really mean it.) Now that we've got that out of the way, I will now confess that I am actually a fan of the romantic gesture, the well-told love story, the heartbreaking ballad that actually transcends schmaltz to become the saddest, most beautiful song you've ever heard. I love some good jazz, some Ella Fitzgerald, some Dinah Washington, some "Will they or won't they?" TV sitcom romance, the transcendent, impossible movie romance that sweeps you away the tortured, unrequited love that burns you up, the argument that you never want to end, the modern love and the love that, in some way, changes you for the better. I mean, sometimes, love is nice. Romance is fun. Having someone in the room with you can make the room more bearable sometimes. I can't deny that. So, in the spirit of admitting sappiness, I ask you THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: What's your favorite love story? What's your favorite love song? Your favorite TV romance or movie romance? Do you have a story about your best date ever? A good proposal story? What's the most romantic thing that ever happened to you?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Absolutely nowhere.

Last Thursday, an associate of my mother's invited me to take part in a class on how to do home mortgages. Looking over the program brochure this man sent me, I saw within 30 seconds that I wouldn't be able to actually take this class, for it required that I miss work for three weeks. I quickly sent the man my regrets via e-mail.

"I appreciate that you invited me to take part in this, and I'm sorry that I have to decline such an opportunity," my e-mail stated.

I called my mother after sending it. She didn't know about the time commitment that the class required. She thought maybe that I could do something on the weekends, something that would move me toward a more profitable career dealing with real estate.

She's talked to me about a job change of this type for years. The home mortgage business has been very lucrative for her, and she's been able to profit a great deal from Gwinnett County real estate. Trying to get her family in on the windfall, she's offered to build me a house there so that I could profit upon the resale. She taught my stepbrother and his wife how to do work in home mortgages, and now their growing family makes a better-than-average middle-class living. She thinks I'd be happier in her business or any other business besides the one I'm in, and I don't know that she's wrong. She thinks I'm a people person, that I'd be a good salesman.

I could be a good salesman, though I don't think I should get involved at all in real estate. I mean, I don't own a house, don't really care to own a house, don't want a family and don't want the mainstream "American dream." I would suck at talking mortgages, for I'm not interested in the field at all. I wouldn't buy their product, so I don't think I would be a good salesman of it.

But for over five years, I've worked in a cube and garnered a meek wage. I've worked in a bookstore to supplement my income. I manage, but my credit's shot. I'm going absolutely nowhere with my career-track job, and working at the bookstore full-time would mean that I'd enjoy working there less and make less money than I currently do.

As for my writing career, it doesn't actually exist. I have a blog. I write essays. I do readings. I've never submitted anything to be published. I've started a million stories, a million novels, but nothing's broken through.

Last Thursday, I was supposed to meet someone for coffee to brainstorm over how I can go about finding a more suitable job. But, a couple hours before we were supposed to meet, he called to say that he was stuck at work and couldn't make it.

Last Thursday, I left my office, upset that the mortgage class fell through before I could even consider it as a new direction. Since I didn't have anywhere to really be, I decided to avoid the interstate traffic and take some side roads home. I traveled a mile down the first "side road" I picked, and I was stuck in a traffic jam.

So I pulled into the nearest parking lot, grabbed my copy of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH and headed into this strip-mall Starbucks for a grande iced mocha. I read the second chapter of the book, where main character Lily Bart considers her recent social blunders and then flirts with a man on a train. Lily doesn't really like the man she flirts with on the train, but she knows that she's getting older and running out of options. Men who are suitable to marry, she sees, are getting harder to find, so Lily thinks she has to act fast before all her chances are gone.

Last Thursday, I got my haircut. My stylist was named Guy, and he flirted with me from the moment I sat down in the chair, telling me that I was a favorite type of his: the cute guy who can't see that he's cute. Guy, 34, thin, mildly receding hair, silver jewelry, hair-salon-standard-black-outfit, good smile, had a spark to him. He laughed when I made a joke. So I kept talking to him.

As the haircut continued, Guy mentioned that a woman customer from earlier had asked his advice on how to pursue a man she wanted.

"I told her that she wasn't unattractive and that she could probably just tell him that she wanted him," Guy said. "The people I admire most are the ones who directly ask for the things they want."

To which I replied, "Would you like to go for coffee sometime?"

"Sure," Guy said.

Moments later, Guy was giving me an entirely gratitous post-haircut shampoo-and-conditioning that lasted about 15 minutes. Hot water. Massaged scalp. Scented conditioner. Guy kept sneaking glances below my belt to see if this was having any effect on me. I'm not sure how well the plastic robe covered me.

"So I'm free after 9 if you want to go to coffee," Guy said to me after one of the glances. And he lived in my neighborhood.

So we ended up at another Starbucks, this one outside the Disco Kroger, where we talked until they closed. I was about as cool-and-comfortable as I ever get, for, during chat, Guy would look into my eyes and liked what he saw there. Occasionally, in the right moments, there is a light in my eyes. It used to be there all the time.

"So are you HIV-positive or negative?" I asked him point-blank at some point after we were letting are hands touch under the table.

He was startled. And I sorta knew.

"Well, that's direct," he said.

"Ask the things you want to know, right?" I asked. "Better to ask you now than three coffees from now."

His face turned serious.

"It's undetected," he said.

"Oh, OK," I said. "What does that mean?"

"It means I test negative," Guy said.

"It's a yes-or-no question, isn't it?" I asked him. "But you said 'undetected.' That means something else."

"I've tested positive before," Guy said, "but I don't now."

"So they made a mistake?" I asked, unflapped, a little confused and probably not-entirely-grasping the situation on purpose.

Guy was giving me a sales pitch and didn't want to disqualify himself before the transaction.

"I don't know," Guy said.

"So you've tested positive before and tested negative since?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

I knew there is no cure for HIV. Somewhere in my head, I knew this, yet I still wasn't entirely certain of what this man was saying to me.

"So, when you tested positive, that must've freaked you out," I said.

"Yeah," Guy said, kinda laughing.

"So what happened that you retested as negative?"

Take a step back, and you'll see the whole picture, stupid. You're not really listening to what he's telling you.

"I'm not entirely sure," he said.

"Did they put you on any medication when you tested positive?" I asked.

"They put me on a cocktail," Guy said to me.

Take a step back, and you'll see the whole picture, stupid.

"And are you still on it now, even though you've tested negative?"

"Yeah," he said.

"But why?" I asked.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. You know why.

"Because I'm afraid it'll come back if I don't take them," he said to me.

"So then you're positive?"

Stupid, stupid, stupid, you know the answer to that question.

"I don't know what happened with it," he told me. "But my friends told me to think about this time as a sort of 'remission.' Like with cancer. The disease was here, but it's not now."

"OK, so new question," I said to him. "Are you a good kisser?"

"You'll have to find out," Guy said to me, smiling.

We ended up at his well-decorated condo, where I found out. It escalated to activity that remained low-risk.

But something in my head stopped me before it went further. Something different than the impulses that caused me to flirt in the first place. Something other than the career doubt and the dread that I'd been feeling all day.

The next day, talking to a friend of mine from AIDAtlanta, she helped me to decipher what his answers meant. I'm a bright guy, though, and I shouldn't have needed her help to see it.

Someone who tests positive but then goes on a cocktail and tests negative is considered HIV-positive. Though there is a lower risk of it, transmission of HIV is still possible.

I'm probably fine. I'm mostly certain I'm fine. I've read the statistics. I've spoken with people. I've checked stuff on the Internet. I've gotten over the melodramatic panic.

I still can't figure out what's going on in my head, though. I can't figure out why I would so heedlessly do something so impulsive and risky.

My day was bad, true. But, looking back over it, I am not really someone without options. I just can't see them right now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Another sales pitch.

THE BEST OF YOUTH, my favorite movie of 2005, hits DVD today. And I know I've mentioned how it's an epic, how the acting is brilliant, how beautiful it is to look at and how it's six hours long.

What I've not mentioned is that it stars Alessio Boni (above) and Luigi Lo Cascio (below). And they're Italian.

Again, that's Alessio Boni.

And Luigi Lo Cascio.

OK, so watch the movie.

Scarlett's hotter.

Oh yeah, as if gay ol' Tom Ford would be into them.

OK, now I read this on IMDB, and the whole thing strikes me as just dumb.

Actress Rachel McAdams lost her nerve when she turned up to pose naked for a new Vanity Fair photo spread - and it cost her a spot on the cover of the provocative new Hollywood issue. The Notebook star was invited to pose with British beauty Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson by the issue's artistic director, designer Tom Ford, but pulled out at the last minute. Ford explains, "She felt that she'd be fine with it and then she got there and she realized that she really wasn't, and that was fine... She just asked if she could be excluded from the cover." Ford himself replaced McAdams for the Annie Leibovitz cover shoot - and posed with naked Knightley and Johansson, who were also nervous about baring all to the world. He adds, "I said to them, 'When you're 70 you're gonna look back and say, 'Thank God for this picture - look how amazing I was.'"

I mean, I don't care that Rachel McAdams didn't want to go naked, though I imagine others would've preferred it. What bugs me is that Tom Ford inserted himself into the photo, then garnered the name in the headline and was "artistic director" for the issue. I know it's VANITY FAIR, but Tom Ford is apparently all vanity.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Formerly Aquadisiac.

OK, so I posted today's "Things to Do ..." list on my LiveJournal, and, pretty soon afterward, someone claiming to be the author of I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS thanked me for the plug and listed a link to the book's official website.

So, curious for photographic proof that he really was a drag queen named Aquadisiac in the '90s, I looked at the website to see photos of this author Josh Kilmer-Purcell as himself and Aquadisiac. Seriously, though, this Kilmer-Purcell guy is cute and apparently used to live in Atlanta in the '90s before transferring to New York.

He's set to do book signings in Atlanta, both at Outwrite and at my bookstore's nemesis, on February 22 and 23.

I want to go. Not just because he's cute, either. And not just because he looked at my LiveJournal. It's because his book sounds funny and insane.

Things to do after the Super Bowl.

- The hospital drama GREY'S ANATOMY, which has gotten better with each episode of its second season, is airing a new episode on Super Bowl Sunday after the big game. For those of you who aren't addicted to the show, you're missing out because it's a big, funny, well-acted, light-hearted soap opera. Or, at least, it usually is. This weekend's episode, because of the potential ratings, is going to be an over-the-top event. Apparently, the surgeons at Seattle Grace are all trapped inside the hospital during a "Code Black" emergency. Now, a lot of what that's about has been shrouded in secrecy, but I keep hearing something about a bomb. Beyond that, the great Chandra Wilson's character is supposed to give birth, and Christina Ricci is guest-starring in the episode as a patient with something twisted wrong with her.

- Judi Dench received another Oscar nomination this week for her film MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, which was directed by the usually-genius Stephen Frears. The film tells the story of London's famous Windmill Theater, which overcame its initial financial troubles by putting naked girls up on its stage and eventually made history by never, ever closing its doors during the nights of the bombing raids on London during World War II. It's been playing in town for a couple weeks, but I've not made a point of seeing the film. I'll see it this weekend, but I had my reasons for avoiding it. Even though I love Judi Dench and Stephen Frears, the film also has Bob Hoskins and naked girls in it. And it looked like there was a scene where Dame Judi was going to take off her clothes in it, and I was in no hurry to see that.

- Though most of you may not know who she is, Sanaa Lathan is a terrific actress, able to convey intelligence and evoke sympathy while being uniquely beautiful. After seeing her in the surprisingly good LOVE AND BASKETBALL a couple years ago, I've kept my eye on her, waiting for her to make a breakthrough into larger movies and more leading roles. This week, that happens. Lathan stars in SOMETHING NEW, which is a romantic comedy about interracial love that, from the previews, looks like a smart, serious, appealing movie about a real relationship. Lathan's character Kenya is a high-maintenance workaholic with no time or patience for dating. She's set up with a white gardener named Brian, played by Simon Baker, and her attraction to him throws her for a loop. It looks like the contrived and silly elements of this movie have been kept to a minimum, which makes me really want to see it. I mean, this time last year, we got GUESS WHO. This is progress.

- Reading through the synopsis of Josh Kilmer-Purcell's wacky-sounding memoir I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS, I immediately put my name on a copy at the bookstore. The paperback's due this week. Kilmer-Purcell's story is that, in the '90s, he was a mild-mannered ad exec during the day ... and, at night, he was a seven-foot-tall drag queen named Aquadisiac who wore outfits so outrageous that his inflatable breasts sometimes carried live goldfish. Aquadisiac's club life was apparently delicious and fabulous until Josh fell in love with Jack, a really nice, crack-addicted male prostitute with a penthouse. Delightful drama, as can be expected, ensues. This is the book I'm tempted to buy and recommend to all my friends this year, and I've not even read the first page yet. (NOTE: The book received a rave review from A MILLION LITTLE PIECES fabulist James Frey, saying how much he "loved" the book and will read it "over and over. This was quoted on the front cover and might hurt its sales. In all fairness, Frey probably didn't even read it but thought it would sound more interesting if he said he did.)

- Since the looks-like-crazy-bad-fun film FINAL DESTINATION 3 doesn't hit theaters until next week, those of you looking for thrills can check out the horror remake WHEN A STRANGER CALLS at the multiplex this weekend. You know the premise, in all likelihood. I think I first heard the story when I was in elementary school, after all. After putting the two kids she's watching to sleep, a babysitter starts receiving phone calls from a creepy-voiced man who asks, "HAVE YOU CHECKED THE CHILDREN?" She ignores the first one, but the calls keep coming. Eventually, the babysitter gets freaked out, calls the police and asks them to tell her who is making the calls. When the police check the phone, the call the babysitter to warn her she's in danger because ... "THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE ..." Now, I honestly don't remember how the whole thing is supposed to end, for I've not seen the Carol Kane original, but the movie is, hopefully, really tense, dark and scary. Terrorized babysitters are fun.
- This week, based upon a recommendation, I picked up Edith Wharton's HOUSE OF MIRTH just to see if I could get through it. Thus far, it's been surprisingly readable. Wharton's good with character, dialogue and descriptions of turn-of-the-century New York, and I'm enjoying it. It was like that for me last year with AS I LAY DYING and THE RAZOR'S EDGE. Reading books like that makes me feel smarter than I actually am. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: What's your favorite "classic" novel? Has there ever been a book you didn't expect to love but ended up devouring? What's the hardest read you've ever enjoyed? And, on the other side of that, what "classic" novel do you despise?