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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Google Settlement

Many of you have maybe read about the Google settlement.  In the "better to beg forgiveness than ask permission" kind of way, Google went to many big college libraries, got their OK to start digitizing their entire collections, and then the publishers and authors go to Google and say maybe you should have spoken to us before you started to do this.  The upshot is that Google has already scanned the books and the settlement would allow Google to do pretty much as it pleases with them with authors having the right to opt out and with Google forking over around 2/3 of the money it gets to publishers and/or authors as the case may be for the money it makes.  Some people have objected to this very strongly.  In order to determine who gets the money, the masters of the Book Registry the settlement establishes may have to look at contracts to see who has electronic rights, so it starts up a new Big Brother with rights to peer into all of our agreements.  The court sets Google up with a monopoly that will last forever.  I'm not as opposed to this as that.  Many countries have things like photocopying funds or lending library money where a library might chip in 3 cents every time a book circulates and then maybe you get $62.89 based on random sampling of library loaning records.  It's money that shows up more easily that way than if every author in Canada has to go after it himself.  Here in the US, we have the courts do what the other branches of government won't with heavy private sector involvement.  It works for me to do it that way.  But my big quibble is that if Google's gone to all this bother to scan my old out of print book from 1972, wouldn't it be nice for them just to give me a copy of it?  So that I don't as an individual author have to butcher my only copy left at considerable personal expense to have for my own book what Google already took the liberty of taking for itself?  The Book Registry big brother might still have to look to see that the rights were reverted to my 1972 book or if I or the publisher have electronic rights under the 1970 contract for my unreverted 1972 book, but at least I have a copy to do with as I please.  This greatly reduces but does not eliminate the objections about the government-sponsored monopoly.  So I did up my letter to suggest this today.  Some powerful estates like Steinbeck and PKDick have banded together and gotten 4 more months from an original May 5 deadline to object or opt out of the settlement, which is a good thing.  If you have a stake in this and want to use some of my language to communicate yourself, you need to send mail to the address below with e-mail copy to the attorneys for Google, the publishers and the authors at the e-mail addy  This as I said is my opinion, and a lot of people hate this settlement vehemently and a lot think it's just fine; the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publisher were the main parties sitting down with Google to hammer this out.

Office of the Clerk

J. Michael McMahon

US District Court for the Southern District of New York

500 Pearl St.

New York, NY  10007

re: Google Book Settlement

Dear Sir:

I am a literary agent with 23 years experience.   The Google Book Settlement will effect virtually all of my clients.

I feel very strongly that the 3.11 Hosted Version for Rightsholders aspect of the Settlement is insufficient, and that Google should also be obliged upon request to provide any Author covered under the Settlement with an electronic version of their work in Word, RTF, PDF or similar common format.

It is very difficult for authors, on an individual basis, to duplicate Google’s efforts in scanning and digitizing these works.  Since Google has already done so with the expectation of benefit to it, which benefit is enshrined in the entirety of the Settlement, these individual authors should not have to duplicate that effort or be entirely dependent on Google’s hosted version in order to gain benefit from the digitization of their work.  This could benefit the authors even in ways that do not compete with Google Book Search.  As an example, it might become easier for authors to market translation rights to their work if they could provide copies electronically for submission and translation instead of having to buy copies (in some instances expensive used copies of older books) which must then be mailed physically at great expense.  If certain fixed costs like typesetting can be reduced, it may make it easier for both publishers and authors to bring more books back into print.

Were this additional requirement added to the Settlement, it would offer clear benefits to the Author Sub-Class and possible benefit to the Publisher Sub-Class without harming Google in a substantial way.  The Settlement would still give court imprimatur to a large, already existing database of digitized work under Google’s control with global terms regarding the use of the database and payment for those usages.  As such, any possible competitor still faces significant barriers of entry in having to go author-by-author in order to compete with what the Settlement would establish.  In undercutting some of the objections that have been made to the Settlement, it would increase acceptance from all stakeholders, and this would ultimately benefit Google and every party to the Settlement.  It would make it seem just a little less like the courts are establishing a Google monopoly now and forever, which is a common thread in many objections I’ve read about to the Settlement.  As such, I urge that 3.11 be broadened to provide Authors with an actual electronic copy of their work and not just a Hosted Version.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

AmEx AmScum

So I'm looking over a change in account terms for my AmEx card and see some new language on telephone communication.

If I call AmEx from any # for any reason, they want to consider this to be permission to inundate that phone # with "special marketing offers."  It can be my land line.  Or my cell line.  It can be a friend's phone # or a relative's phone # if I'm traveling and my card stops working while I'm visiting John-Boy Bilmes.  "any number you give us or from which you call us, including mobile phones."  They can call.  They can send me text messages.  They make it very clear that I "agree to pay any fees or charges you incur for incoming calls or text messages without reimbursement."

Furthermore, I can't ask them if they call to remove me from their calling list.  Oh no, the only way to do this is to go and log on to their web site.  That way, I can stop getting phone calls only if I give them my e-mail address.  Then they can send marketing to that.

And I've gotten marketing e-mails from them.  Reputable e-mailers have a clear easy "unsubscribe" link.  AmEx does not.  You can go to a page to contact customer service, you can click thru to their privacy policy, you can't just click and unsubscribe.

So what AmEx is saying is that they don't care about my time, my privacy, my phone #, my e-mail, anything, other than that they want to do anything and everything they can to circumvent federal law regarding Do Not Call lists and e-mail marketing, and they want to bother me as much as they can and make it as hard as they can for me to get it to stop.

If you don't like this, if you have an AmEx card, please do as I've just done and write to

Kenneth I. Chenault
American Express Co.
World Financial Center
200 Vesey St.
New York, NY  10285
or call 212-640-2000 and ask to speak to Kenneth.

This is the kind of thing that we never notice, because who reads the fine print of their credit card agreement or of the frequent Notice of Changes they hide on page 8 of the bill.  It's the kind of thing reputable companies shouldn't do.  It's the kind of thing that maybe they won't do if enough people complain.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Real Live Castle

I had a great time last year taking the high road, so I wanted to do another English Country Walk on this year's trip to London.  The ruler of the walk David Wenk was kind enough to swap the scheduled walks for the weekend so that I would be able to do my preferred walk to Bodiam Castle onthe Saturday.

We met up at the London Bridge station to take the train out to Robertsbridge.  It's also possible to take that train from Charing Cross or Waterloo East, but this gives a few extra minutes.  David and I were joined by a Czech and a Slovak who David knew.  When we detrained at Robertsbride I did an extra side walk to recycle some newspapers at this beautiful bin.

We then headed off into Robertsbridge proper where we stopped in at a small used bookstore on the high street, and then we headed off into the countryside.  Passing along the site of an abandoned rail right of way which some 
volunteers are hoping to return to service for a tourist steam train I snapped this nice picture of a pillbox which would have guarded the line during World War II.  We then proceeded into Salehurst for our first visit of the day, stopping to admire the 13th Century Church of St. Mary the Virgin, seen here 
in a back view (center), and then we left Salehurst for the moment to begin some serious walking over to Bodiam Castle. We had good appetites all of us by the time we arrived at the City Inn pub across from the Castle grounds for lunch, and this was quite nice.  I had some potato and wild garlic soup with baked camembert, David got a nice warm burger, and everyone else fish and chips, and while we ate a steam train
 started off on an excursion across the field.

Bodiam Castle itself is just a wonderful, wonderful place to visit, and probably a must for
 anyone wanting to write a fantasy novel with a castle in it.

Wikipedia questions since the walls are not very thick if it was much in the way of a genuine war toy, but in outward appearance it is the classic medieval moated castle and looks really quite gorgeous and also quite foreboding across the moat.  Built in the 14th century and allowed to fall into decay starting in the 17th it's been moderately restored, and it's possible to climb up some of of the towers.  These are views 

looking up from inside the castle, looking across from inside, of the vineyard stretching up the adjacent hillside from one of the towers, and then looking across from that tower to more of the adjoining countryside.

There are bigger castles and smaller, of course.  This one is kind of small, while Windsor Castle which we got to see from the air both coming and going into Heathrow is quite big. But even at Windsor Castle, the tallest tower is only so tall.  And certainly at Bodiam Castle climbing the towers is no easy task.  The stone spiral stairs are narrow and bendy and an old or arthritic body is no match for their treachery, and even the fleetest of foot will be hard-pressed to go charging up and down these stairs.  Maybe the bigger Windsor Castle with so much pageantry gives a little more space to the staircases, but your garden variety castle...???  I kind of think not, and the next time I read a novel that talks about the old wizard's room being at the top of some eight-story high castle tower well apart from everyone I'm going to suggest the author do a little more research.  Does the elderly wizard teleport?  Did he have a knee replacement?  Are these castle owners very very rich to build a tower so so high?  

The trip back to Salehurst from a different direction took us along some paths less traveled through the hills of Sussex.  This is hops country, not as much now as it used to be, but here we traveled next to one hops field where the hops may just be starting to grow at ground level and then climb the stakes kind of tomato like over the course of the growing season and then in the
next picture the two gleaming white dots in the distance would be two of the three that dot the roof of the oast houses which are used to dry the hops before the brewing process.

We stopped back in Salehurst, visiting the pub round the corner for some early evening refreshment.  David Wenk took a picture of Wonder Woman coming by for some private function at the pub, but he can post thatAdd Image on his blog if he wants.  We were running a bit late and made our way back from Salehurst to Robertsbridge by road instead of by country path, and had around twenty minutes at a train-side pub before getting a 20:10 back to London.

Two final pictures.
One is of a stile, the joy of the English Country Walk, which must be surmounted crossing from field to field along the way, designed to keep the footpaths open ony to dedicated walkers and not to motorcycles or snowmobiles or lambs or cows or nags or anything or anyone that can't go up and down one of these.  This walk included one recently rebuilt cadillac of stiles, and then some on a little used footpath that are in such major disarray as to make the walk virtually impassable. We also got to cross a roman road at one point, now rebuilt for cars that go zipping along the ancient byway at such a good rate of speed that the great frogger himself would heartily approve of our scurrying.

Last year's River Towns of Essex walk had a more diverse set of walking experiences which allowed me to see more different kinds of things, but the centerpiece of the Bodiam Castle walk was truly exceptional, and there's much better shopping at the Castle gift shop than at any stop along the River Towns walk.  In fact, I got some of the gifts of chocolate for my table at the London Book Fair from the Bodiam Castle walk.  The fudge hand-made in Kent was a little disappointing, but one of the visitors at the Fair who selected the Kendall Mint Cakes was kind enough to share one with Eddie and I, and that was a sublime mint cake experience that I would happily have again.  There were other varieties of foodstuffs made locally in the UK at or near National Trust sights to go along with some of the usual gift shop items.

I'd recommend either walk, and I hope I'll be able to try another English Country Walk the next time I am in the UK.  And I'll say as I did last year, that if you are going to be in London at any point in the near future you really should check out the calendar and experience one of these walks for yourself.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

getting there

The past couple of years for my London Book Fair trip I'd taken Eos to London, one of the three business-class only airlines across the Atlantic that went belly-up from late 2007 thru summer 2008, Eos just a couple of weeks after I got back last year.  This year I flew business on Delta, choosing them largely because they were offering a 5PM flight back for the price other airlines charged for the 10AM return from Heathrow.  The late departures are very popular with the road warriors who can do a full day of business in London and then head home and the airlines charge accordingly (though now it looks like they're happy to take less money than you might think any time of the day or night; I'm checking American right now and finding what a year ago would have been shockingly low prices if I wanted to go back to London in June).

Delta seems to have taken lessons on schedule updates from Amtrak, which has this nasty habit of pretending that a NYC to DC train won't be delayed because the same train coming down from Boston is running 35 minutes late, and so it was that even though Delta 001 is a continuation of a flight from Orlando albeit with a change of planes for the Florida passengers, Delta pretended that the scheduled 90 minute delay for the flight from Orlando would have no effect on our departure.  Not until we got to the airport 2 hours before, and then just after we've checked in they finally decide that yes, the incoming flight really will be late and then push our ETD back by 90 minutes.  I am assuming they were waiting to see what time the flight actually left Orlando so they'd know more precisely what time we would be able to leave JFK, but unless they were willing to strand all the switching passengers in NYC if that flight was really really really late, wouldn't it have been nicer for them to have admitted sooner that whatever time we left, it wasn't going to be on time?

Delta has two shabby old terminals 2 & 3, so I was happy to find out that even though we checked in at terminal 2 that the Heathrow departure actually left from the nicer and newer international terminal 4 (you could go thru security at terminal 2 and take a shuttle across the tarmac), which has more shopping and eating and long wide concourses that are good for exercising.  I used part of the "unexpected" delay to walk around outside, and was glad to discover you can actually walk between terminals 1,2,3,4&5, which is the new Jet Blue terminal. I did not have time to walk the far end of 5 to see if the path continued onward.  I have no idea if or how you could walk from the terminals to the rest of the world thru the spaghetti of access roads, but at least I know there's this walking route for outdoor exercise if delayed in the future. I did have time for my first in-person glimpse at an A-380 jumbo jet, with one of Emirates parked beside terminal 4.

Eos used the Emirates lounge, which Eos termed the best in NYC, and they may well be right.  It had a full hot buffet and lots of space.  The Sky Team lounge in terminal 4 had only a soup and two hot dishes, though both of those were at least tasty, and then some cold stuff and the usual plentiful array of beverages and etc. etc.  Not at all bad, but not Emirates.

Delta did its best to board the passengers starting at JFK so we could welcome the people moving over from the flight from Orlando, many of which seemed from the accents as they slowly filtered in to be families from South Africa who had been visiting Disney World by way of Heathrow and JFK.  The last of them got on maybe 10 minutes after our announced delayed departure time, and we got lucky to the extent that we had a very short taxi time (either a smooth day @ JFK or we were now leaving after the peak evening taxi delays) and no circling once in London and were less than an hour behind getting to London.  This was my first time doing normal trans-Atlantic business class instead of the more first-classy Eos.  I couldn't really get comfy in my seat for sleeping though it was large enough and reclined near flat, perhaps because as my assistant Eddie told me later I didn't take advantage of the leg extension part of it.  The food was OK.  The one thing I really missed from the much larger personal space on Eos was a cubby near my head to put some stuff in for the flight, so you don't have to unbuckle to reach the seatback pocket or a stowed briefcase beneath the seat that's a decent difference in front.  The passport control line was rather longer than I'm used to in London, but that meant no waiting the other side for the luggage.  Since we were staying in west London I decided it would be about as quick to take the Picadilly line for not very much money as to take the Heathrow Express for rather more money and then still have to get along to the hotel.  Other than having the heaviest rain of the day exactly during the walk from the tube to the hotel we arrived in OK time, and I pressed a little on getting rooms that were ready and for me on my preferred side of the hotel so we could freshen up and get to work.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What we live for

The Voyager imprint at HarperCollins UK has been getting behind Peter V. Brett's THE PAINTED MAN in the nicest possible way, and their paperback edition went on sale with a really big push with perfect timing for me to admire while I was over this past week for London Book Fair.  The picture on the right was taken at the Borders UK flagship store on Oxford Street, and a similar display was at the Borders in Islington as well.  The picture on the left comes from the Waterstone's flagship store at Picadilly Circus, where we could see the number of copies on the display slowly dwindle over the course of our week in London.  It's a great book, available in the US under the title the WARDED MAN, and Peter just got big press in the Daily News and on the local cable news channel.

In other bookstore notes, Borders UK which was sold in a leveraged buyout a while back is no longer using the Borders US inventory system, so I wasn't able to read inventory stickers on this trip.   Took some of the fun away.  And Borders UK seemed to be running a tighter ship inventory wise, without the overcrowded shelves and multiple copies of some books that I'd seen in prior years.  They've sold or closed most of the mall store Books Etc. branches that had been the initial entry point for Borders in the UK so now it's superstores or bust with only a handful of mall stores left.  They have books like the Greywalker novels by Kat Richardson and the Harper Connelly by Charlaine Harris in a paranormal romance section, which isn't the first place I'd choose to look.  It's hard to find Charlaine's Sookie books right now because the UK editions are moving from Orbit, which has stopped shipping, to Gollancz, which starts up in June to coincide with the UK launch of True Blood.  Waterstone's seems steady as a rock in their selection.  Both chains have a lot of the paranormal crossover authors like Laurell K. Hamilton shelved in whole or in part in their horror section, largely because that's where Laurell's Anita Blake books went when they first came out and thus the habit gets established.  Murder One was long a mainstay of Charing Cross Road but recently closed, leaving Forbidden Planet as the major specialty shop on the West End.  I don't like Foyles.  They have an OK selection at their main store on Charing Cross, but their branches in St. Pancras International train station and in the Westfield London shopping mall didn't even have PAINTED MAN.  W. H. Smiths runs stores of varying sizes from little train station shoeboxes to huge stores in big malls, but none of them were doing well by JABberwocky either.

Monday, April 20, 2009

things from England

A few minutes before our first London Book Fair appointment.  The Green & Blacks mini-bars are ready for visitors, the catalogs are stuffed, the table is in readiness, and I don't get to move for the next 9 hours.  Let the great adventure begin!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The Cripple of Inishman, seen Sunday afternoon January 11, 2009 at the Atlantic Theater (NY) Mainstage,  2 slithy toads.

Reasons To Be Pretty, seen Saturday afternoon April 11, 2009 at the Lyceum Theatre, 3 slithy toads.

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh has written one of the best plays I've ever seen, The Pillowman, which I like enough to have seen once in London, twice in NY, and once in DC, and will happily go to again if given the opportunity.  Let me know if it's playing on a stage near you, and we can do an outing.  This year he received he an Acadamey Award nomination for his very pleasant comedy In Bruges.  At the dawn of his career, he wrote The Cripple of Inishman, which was first presented in NYC ten years ago in a production that was not admired, and which now returns in a production first presented at Ireland's Druid Theatre, and which was received quite rapturously.  Enh.  Meh.

McDonagh's plays specialize often in cruelties of a sort, and the Cripple is indeed about a Cripple whose parents were lost as sea several years ago, and whose hopes of making it in Hollywood are kindled by the arrival of a film crew in town. The town is full of gossips, and by the time it's over we'll have heard multiple versions of the night his parents were lost and maybe by the end have the final one.  I'll hold on to my memories of The Pillowman or of the gleeful bloodletting of the Lt. of Inishmore, or even on the negative side of the creaky dramatic device that allows The Beauty Queen of Leenane to creak into existence.  I saw this one three months ago, and it fades so into the cobwebs of my mind that my general sense of its mediocrity is only confirmed.

A good Neil LaBute play is quite unlikely to creep into the cobwebs of anything.  In recent years his plays have mostly been performed way downtown at the Lucille Lortel, which is a very long walk to get to and just an all-around pain in the neck, and I've ended up skipping there and then catching at the Studio Theatre in DC.  This play, however, moved uptown to become the first Broadway play for LaBute, and with a theatermania offer in hand the price was very right for an 8th row seat.

LaBute first came to my attention with the gleefully misogynist film In the Company of Man, where two office workers bet on dating a deaf co-worker.  In his play The Shape of Things, we're left to ponder how cruel we can be in the service of a good deed when a guy/girl makeover comes with an unexpected twist of the knife.  (I saw the play, not the movie, but would recommend the film as it is supposed to be faithful.)   Fat Pig, I saw with my Myke Cole, and we had some nice heated debates afterwards.  That's about an office worker who dates a very very fat woman and then has to decide whether to keep the relationship going in the face of the reaction from his co-workers.

Those two plays form a trilogy that now concludes with Reasons To Be Pretty.  Some interesting connections in all of these, in that Paul Rudd was in the film version of The Shape of Things and now in a movie I saw the same weekend as Reasons.  I saw Reasons To Be Pretty with an understudy Anne Bowles playing the female lead, and I see in my Playbill that she was in the DC production I saw of Fat Pig.  

Reasons To Be Pretty starts with a heated argument between a couple that are living together over something he said about her.  Some of the reviews have given the details of what he said, which we don't get to find out until the argument's been going for a while, and I think it's better that way; no spoilers here on that at least.  The two end up splitting up. The balance of the play alternates between: (a) scenes at his workplace, what the set but not the script tells us is a Costco because the pallets include some of various Kirkland Signature products, where the male lead Greg works with Kent on the night receiving team.  Kent in turn is putting Carly, a security guard at the same job, into a family way.  Greg and Carly do not get along so well.  (b) the typical post-breakup awkward scenes Greg and Steph meet at a food court for some follow-on metaphorical eating of one another, when Greg and Steph run into one another at a restaurant, and later when Steph stops by work to tell Greg about the new guy she'll be marrying.

The scenes between Steph and Greg are exceptionally potent.  Oh but it's quite a row they have at the beginning!  The restaurant scene is filled with every little bit of what you'd dread about living it yourself.  The unspoken desire to get back together, the spoken conflict between wanting to re-connect and wanting to unload.  The fact that I saw Steph played by an understudy is a reminder that there are lots of good actors in the world and rarely a role or performance so indelible it can't be equalled by someone else, and Bowles acts like she was born to play the role.

I liked less the scenes between Greg and Kent at the warehouse store break-room.  I was always rapt when Steph and Greg were on stage, and then bleary-eyed when it was Greg and Kent.  And there was something about the relationship betwee Carly and Greg that seemed a little off or perhaps underdefined to me.  

But at its best, the writing and the acting here are exceptional, and the best scenes are so brilliantly done that they are likely to linger long long after.  Thomas Sadoski is wonderful as Greg, and the chemisty between he and Bowles exceptionally good.  There isn't a line-reading that's off as he journeys slowly from the dead-on macho refusal to see wrong of the opening argument to slowly seeing so much that's wrong in his life to an ultimate regret and melancholy. 

I'm giving this "only" 3 toads.  First, what sticks in this is something that sticks in a lot of drama while the sharper knife twists of Fat Pig and The Shape of Things ask us to dig just a little deeper into ourselves.  This is definitely gentler LaBute, but a sharper prod with the stick is sometimes what we need.  Second, I do think the play was just so much better when Steph was on the stage, and I don't know if it's the writing or the casting or both or neither that I just wasn't as caught up in the guy-on-guy repartee between Greg and Kent.  I'm more certain it's the writing that undercuts the play in the Greg/Carly part of it, though that aspect of it does ultimately go someplace interesting as part of Greg's growing self-awareness.

I would recommend this highly if you're in NYC, and because the Lyceum is a cozy old playhouse with a second balcony it doesn't have to cost you a mint.  If I send you the Theatremania offer, you could choose to go upstairs for under $40.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Comic Mediocrity

I Love You, Man.  Seen Sunday afternoon April 12, 2009 at the Regal UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Auditorium #6.  2 slithy toads.

Sunshine Cleaning, Seen Sunday afternoon April 12, 2009 at the Regal UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Auditorium #8.  1.5 slithy toads.

It's been a busy time of year and I wanted to do some relaxing stuff over the weekend to kind of recharge before the more busy-ness of getting ready for and heading off to London Book Fair.  I wish I could have done better than these two OK comedies.

Let's do Sunshine Cleaning first, becauses that at least is a movie I'll remember.  For the wrong reasons, but I'll remember it.  Amy Adams has been generally delightful in almost every role she's been in beginning with the little indie movie Junebug a few years ago, and including an Oscar nomination for Doubt and the lead role in Enchanted.  Here, she's charming us as Quirk #1 in a 4-Quirk family.  Her dad is played by Adam Arkin, so of course he'll be quirky.  Her son is having trouble in school, and it's the need to get tuition for him to go to private school after being kicked out of (yet another) public school for inappropriate licking that gets her to join her sister (i.e., the 4th Quirk) in a business called Sunshine Cleaning that will specialize in tidying up after murders and deaths and the like.  While her father tries to peddle black-market shrimp and her sister stalks Mary Lynn Rajskub, Amy Adams takes a crash course in biohazard disposal.  All this is being played for laughs, and there are enough of them for the movie to be moderately pleasant.

However, the movie falls apart in the final act when all of the Quirks come home to roost, leading to an epidemic of stupid and/or illogical behavior that wasn't much fun to me at all.

In the business Amy Adams is in, getting jobs from insurance companies is, we are told, one of the important steps to success.  So when Adams gets her first job from State Farm, naturally she decides that this job is less important than a baby shower.  That might be OK if the shower was for a beloved family member, but it's for some character who's hardly been in the movie and the shower is this dreadful thing, so it's totally stupid for her to prioritize the shower over the job.  She sends her somewhat absent-minded sister to start the job and wait for her to come for the finish, and her sister ends up setting fire to the house she's supposed to be cleaning in a Rube Goldberg sort of way involving a bed, a cat, a candle, curtains, and an overdose of ditziness.  And then redemption comes after this when the dad played by Arkin does something completely out of character that's totally inconsistent with anything we've seen of him.

Ultimately, the movie is short, pleasant and stupid.  If they could have made it short, pleasant and smart it would have been better.

I liked I Love You, Man just a tad bit more because it doesn't get stupid.  The plot is certainly comparable to other movies from the Judd Apatow factory (as director, writer, producer) and stars Apatow veteran Paul Rudd (40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, as well as the delightful Role Models and Clueless and many other films.  He's often the best thing in an Apatow movie and better than that when he can show more charm and intelligence and not just go around being vulgar as the Apatow movies usually require.  Well, Role Models was vulgar but in a smart and mocking way of its own while Apatow movies are often vulgar for vulgarity's sake or out of laziness.  We see Rudd getting engaged at the start of the movie, and then deciding that he needs more guy friends to round out his wedding party.  There's a bit of contrivance here as in Sunshine Cleaning because Rudd's gay brother could easily enough be his best man (a nice pleasant supporting turn by Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live), but Sunshine Cleaning hangs itself on contrivance while this movie takes the somewhat more acceptable course of asking you to buy in at the start but then lets the plot dominos fall more or less logically.  Rudd's search eventually puts him and Jason Segel (another Apatow veteran) together for some male bonding with somewhat predictable but of course not fatal implications for Rudd's relationship with his fiancee.   

The movie is rarely uproarious but is almost always pleasant.  It's a little flat and maybe five or ten minutes too long.  It has too many ingredients that can too often go awry, but it manages to work well enough in spite of but certainly doesn't thrive.  It's a decent bargain matinee, great second run at the discount house, more than fine enough to DVD, but for the most part kind of defines the midway mark in my ranking system.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The $3000 shower

With business becoming more successful, my current 1BR has gotten more and more "cozy."  When Steve Mancino, Myke Cole and Peter V. Brett helped paint 2+ years ago in part of it and I threw out a lot of stuff in the process of moving things around and back into place, I'd guessed that gained me another 2 years of comfortable enjoyment.  With that 2-year clock ticking, I started looking at 2BR seriously last summer and came very close to buying a really nice one right in my own building.  But after having an accepted offer, another buyer came in a week later offering $4K more and 50% down, and my dreams were short-lived.  Nothing to be done about it really.  Even though I had a sense that True Blood would put more money in my pocket this spring, it's not a good idea to buy real estate with money you hope to have in eight months.

I picked up the search again several weeks ago when a quiet time for my JABberwocky existence gave me a little house-hunting time, and I had a contractor come around to do estimates on fixing up 2 possible new apartments and then fixing up this place for sale after I moved out.  And then after doing that, I got to thinking that I could fix up my bathroom and in particular replace my dreadful vintage 1930s shower box with something newer without having to uproot the business, and that if I was going to do that to fix up the apartment for the next people to come in, why not do it now so I could actually enjoy my shower for however many months I might be hanging around.

So we did that this week.

Wow!  Imagine taking a shower where you don't have to keep adjusting the hot water upward because it keeps cutting out, because the alternative of running it full out makes you sense the dwindling life expectancy of the shower with every gallon of water.  With a full rich spray.   I wish I'd done this years ago.    Not long after I moved in when we had an awful super I wasn't willing to trust even for replacing a washer, a plumber did that in the shower and suggested replacing the shower box, and I was like "yeah, come to do a washer and he wants to turn it inot this big thing."  In recent years I twice had to turn off the hot water in my apartment and wait on having a handyman come in to futz with the innards of my 70-year-old shower box.  Well, let's just hope the new one will still be making me happy in six weeks.

The contractor also stripped the old wallpaper and gave the upper half of the walls a nice paint job to match the tile work.

I'm still debating whether to move to a 2BR in a nice art deco building 10 blocks away, further from the PO, the bank and the walk into Manhattan (probably same by subway) and overlooking a firehouse.  I'm also toying with waiting just a bit longer and moving into the newer more expensive buildings in Long Island City that have been sprouting up in recent years.  It's possible with the housing market where it is that I might for the first time in my life be able to build a down payment faster than LIC/Sunnyside real estate prices could go up.

Brillig posts have been lacking in recent weeks.  But I'll try and put a few more up before heading off to London Book Fair.