July 31, 2007

Pardon My Glee

By this time next month, Rachel and I will be gone from Longview. We are moving away. Rachel interviewed over the phone for a teaching position on Sunday evening and they offered her the job the next day. She'll be teaching first grade in Waco, starting in just a few weeks. I'm drowning in details just at present, but I'm very excited about the change.

I gave notice at work this morning (August 20th will be my last day). That's one hurdle. We still have to break our lease, buy out our cable contract, leave a forwarding address, find a forwarding address, change everything to the new address, close out our bank account, pack up all of our junk, and haul it three hours away . . . and a hundred million other things I haven't thought of yet. And all of this must be done on a very precisely-timed but as-yet-undecided timetable. Rachel will have to be in Waco on the 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th, and then again from the 21st through the 24th (that's my birthday!) before the school year starts the following week. It's all kind of making my head spin, but in a good way.

After a few months of complete uncertainty about what the next few years were going to look like, it's great to have a direction that I'm happy with. Once things get settled, I'll start looking for a part-time job (there are 2 openings at the library there . . . that's a start), and I'll apply to Baylor's graduate program. With luck I can start working on a masters in English lit in the spring. I hadn't dared to hope that I might be within reach of a suitable program for maybe two more years, so I'm thrilled at the opportunity (to say the least). Now the hard part: Getting accepted and earning the degree.

Meanwhile, Waco is a pretty nice city with lots of stuff to do: scads of museums and historical sites, a zoo, a riverwalk, symphony, opera, and more live stage events than you can shake a stick at (I count 4 distinct theater groups with their own production seasons). And if that gets boring (ha!), Dallas is an hour and a half to the north and Austin is an hour and a half to the south. Plus, I keep threatening to try and get some papers published. Maybe I can get on that now. I'm almost out of time if I want to use it as CV padding for grad school applicationing.

Anyway . . . all that aside: Huzzah!

P.S. Nobody's happier about this than Rachel. She just called me from her "last day" at the hated Michael's job. She went in today determined to give them two weeks' notice, despite my misgivings as to whether they deserved it, and found that they had already cut half of her hours for this week and (sure enough) would now be withholding her hours from next week since she's leaving anyway. So this is her last day.

Turns out the money-grubbing, penny-pinching, brown-nosing, fat-cat, scum-sucking, puppy-drowning low-lifes over at corporate headquarters noticed that one of the managers gave out too many hours last week and they're making her pay them back by giving out fewer than the normal allotment this week. Fewer hours . . . and Rachel's already been given a paltry 5 or less for the past few weeks.

Oh, but she does get to keep the apron. Thanks for nothing and die in a fire, corporate f***ing America. That's right, capitalists are lousy, no-good bastards. I said it, and I'm not sorry. Drowning in raw sewage is too good for them and a napalm bath is too quick. The only reason they're still around is because no one's found a horrible enough way to kill them all off yet. Someday . . .

Posted by Jared at 04:45 PM | TrackBack

July 26, 2007

It Is Finished

Potterheads rejoice! The 7th book is out, most of you have finished it (if you haven't . . . spoiler warning!), and it is a worthy final chapter in an epically-good series that I will relish sharing with fellow readers for some time to come. Rachel, having seen the first five movies and heard the first book read aloud (by me), wormed a partial summary of book six out of me so I could read Deathly Hallows out loud to her. Not what I would have done, but this is the girl that normally reads the ends of books first. I was just glad she didn't immediately jump to the epilogue and then tell me all about it.

I read about half of it aloud, and the rest we read separately. I finished on Sunday and she finished on Monday. Now she's started over . . . she read Sorceror's Stone and about half of Chamber yesterday. She probably would have read more, but I got irritable at about 2 in the morning when she kept exploding with shrieks of hysterical laughter and thrashing about while I was trying to sleep right next to her. I'm such a grump.

Anyway, back to Deathly Hallows. My expectations for this book were absolutely through the roof (no way to keep them down), and they were satisfied. This book has everything: weddings, funerals, high-speed, high-altitude chases, riddles, mysteries, sudden reversals, disguises, duels, a bank job, a battle . . . even a Grail quest! And it fills in perfectly all the gaps that were left in the story and backstory, all the way back to Dumbledore's early career. Awesome.

And, perhaps most important of all, I hope that anyone still saying these books cannot and do not speak profoundly and meaningfully of key Christian truths feels a right stupid git now. Harry selflessly walks to his death at Voldemort's hands and then finds himself in King's Cross for a discussion with Dumbledore about the deeper magic that Voldemort doesn't understand. He then returns to life where Voldemort is all ready to proclaim his triumphant victory, performing the cruciatus curse on Harry's limp body and lifting him into the air three times. Voldemort declares his supremacy to the still-defiant good guys, but they can't be hurt by him or his followers. They are protected from harm by Harry's blood sacrifice. Harry and Voldy then duel and Harry wins the final Hallow from him, becoming the "master of death."

Pretty blatant stuff.

As soon as I finished the book, I started combing the interwebs in search of others who "got it." I particularly wanted to see what John Granger had to say, but he's not covering the symbolism exhaustively just yet. If you start over at his blog, you'll find a fun list of 20 discussion points to look over. I commented on #12 (the Horcruxes and Hallows) because no one had mentioned the Grail aspects of the Quest.

In the meantime, while I await a more complete discussion of Deathly Hallows from Granger, I also discovered this. It's an outrageously long discussion of the Christian elements of Half-Blood Prince that Granger posted on a Barnes&Noble forum. Good reading, but sadly he eventually allowed himself to be drawn down into a rather silly and petty side-debate over the origins of Christianity (and came off rather badly, IMO) before the thread was locked by a moderator a few weeks later. But the initial post is interesting.

"Christianity Today" (long a bastion of enlightened reason regarding Harry amidst a sea of evangelical inanity and insanity) dove right in with a discussion of the latest books Christian elements. Good article.

And they aren't the only ones that noticed. "The Wall Street Journal" commented on it in their review, as well. (Thanks, Martinez.)

John Mark Reynolds at Scriptorium Daily soberly discusses his impressions of the final book and the series as a whole, as a reader who enjoyed them but is unsure of their literary merit or staying power. Here's more of the same from "Rafting the Tiber." Lots of good commentary out there, and I hope to stumble across some more as people have time to articulate.

Meanwhile, two more links: Remember those raving lunatics from "Exposing Satanism" that I discovered a few years back? No? Well, they're still around, but a lot of the stuff from their site isn't around anymore . . . this article is, though. It's good for an outraged laugh (sexual congress with goats?!), and there's some very clever (if self-defeating) symbology work. Reminds me of Dan Brown, oddly enough. And, finally, courtesy of Uncle Doug, here's an interview with Rowling in which she reveals some information that didn't make it into the epilogue. If you're feeling like you need some more closure, definitely check it out.

Posted by Jared at 04:43 PM | TrackBack

July 20, 2007

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

(Finished Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter on Monday and I'm flying through The Phantom Menace. Up next is Rogue Planet, and after that Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn . . . be sure and find yourself a copy of that if you don't own one. Zahn is not to be missed. I'll be breaking for a few days to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so the Zahn book should come up in a little under 2 weeks.)

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was written by Michael Reaves and published in January of 2001. It was Reaves first Star Wars book, though by no means his first writing experience in the universe. Apparently he was involved in a few episodes from the Droids and Ewoks TV series. He has since collaborated with Steve Perry on three Star Wars novels (including a forthcoming book on the origins of the Death Star), and he will be responsible for a trilogy centered on Coruscant during the Jedi Purge which will be released during the next two years. Non-Star Wars writings include a long and varied career in television on such shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Batman: The Animated Series, as well as many novels and short stories.

The book is set during the few days before Episode I begins, and ends as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are en route to Naboo.

Connections: The only ongoing characters with a significant role in the book are Darth Maul and Obi-Wan. I didn't detect any cameos, but several other movie characters make incidental appearances (Darth Sidious, Yoda, Qui-Gon, Trade Federation leaders, etc.). Most of the cast is new and appears only here.

Four Nemoidians are in on Darth Sidious's plot to blockade Naboo, but just before the plan goes into effect, one of them drops out and runs for Coruscant. He is intent on selling the information about the impending blockade (and who is really behind it) to the highest bidder and using the proceeds to disappear into comfortable retirement. With time running out, Sidious dispatches Darth Maul to quickly and quietly plug the leak, but there are a number of factors neither of them have counted on.

Drawn inexorably into the midst of these events are Lorn Pavan, a small-time information broker who has been down on his luck ever since the Jedi ruined his life, Pavan's "business partner" I-Five, a wise-cracking, heavily-modified protocol droid, and Darsha Assant, an untried Jedi Padawan who has just completely flubbed her first important solo mission. These three unlikely companions will match wits with a Dark Lord of the Sith (and worse) deep in the treacherous, terrifying underbelly of the galaxy's capital planet.

This book is pretty great, as Star Wars books go: simple and straightforward, but full of excitement and flavor. Reaves writes very naturally in the lingo, and his vocabulary (Star Wars and non-Star Wars) is large and varied. The story is neatly woven together, and you never know what's going to happen next. There is a genuine tension because the heroes can (and probably will) die. The hair-breadth escapes feel like just that, reminiscent of an Indiana Jones-style "how in the heck can they get out of this?" stunt.

The characters, by the way, are really good. The banter between Pavan and his droid is classic, and Darsha (the amazing fallible Jedi) is a nice change from the usual flat, bland characterization others in her order receive. Speaking of flat, that's what Darth Maul is . . . but it's not Reaves fault (gee, whose fault could it be?). Nevertheless, he portrays the character very compellingly. Maul remains a credibly scary villain even though he fails several times to finish off his quarry because of the way Reaves displays the Sith's incredible arrogance. Sending Obi-Wan to follow in the wake of destruction Maul leaves behind is also a fun move.

There is another character in the book that Reaves does exceptionally well: Coruscant. Reaves really brings the planet to life for us, populating its underworld with strange life forms, street gangs, criminal organizations, tribes of mutant cannibals . . . and surrounding it all an atmosphere of deep-ghetto gloom and grime that exists just beneath the shining surface of the planet's upper-levels. This is not (thank goodness) George Lucas's Coruscant. All in all a bit shallow, but a cracking good read nonetheless.

Grade: A-

Posted by Jared at 01:01 PM | TrackBack

Hot Off the Press

I am sitting here staring in wonder at five brand-new copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all ready for release when we open tomorrow morning. Most of my fellow employees haven't noticed, but a few are almost too giddy to work. I'm having a little trouble myself, and I get off at 1:00.

One of them is on reserve for me.

Posted by Jared at 10:07 AM | TrackBack

July 16, 2007

Shakespeare Bash 2007

What a delightful weekend this was: an unbeatable combination of friends, frivolity and food such as I rarely experience now that we've all graduated and scattered. The Texas Shakespeare Festival is running all month in Kilgore, and we settled on this past weekend as our time to go. In town for the event (at various times, in some cases) were myself and Rachel, Scholl and Anna, Randy, Wilson, Gallagher, Barbour, Ashley, Paige, Barbour's mom, and Wilson's family. The festival presented Othello, Man of La Mancha, Much Ado About Nothing and Amadeus for our infinite enjoyment. On Friday evening we pulled in from the four corners of everywhere (alright, mostly Texas) to the congregation point of Buffet City (Chinese) in Kilgore before adjourning to the performance of Othello.

After the rather oppressive rendering of Macbeth a few years ago and the uneven quality of last year's Coriolanus (the play itself, not its interpretation by the company), I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy this year's tragedy, but it was quite good. Good sign #1 was that Othello would be played by a black actor (you'd think that would be a given, but . . .). The actors did well playing up the light elements of the first 3 acts, and it also helps that Iago is probably Shakespeare's most compelling villain. The slow pace of the final acts was alleviated by very strong performances from the leads.

On Saturday afternoon, we went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and it was greeted by various levels of enjoyment. I largely liked it, particularly in contrast to the awful 4th film, despite a few minor quibbles. I'll stick a review up on Moviegoings soon. As a litmus test of coherence, Ashley said she rather enjoyed it having only read the first book and caught random pieces (out of order) of the first 3 movies.

Saturday night was the musical (after an interlude for Anna's yummy lasagna). I do not care for Man of La Mancha very much, although I do enjoy several of the songs. I find it entirely too preachy in all the wrong directions. In any case, this was certainly the weakest of the 4 we saw this weekend, thanks in part to the weak voice of the lead. I was particularly worried at first when I could barely make out what he was singing, but when Sancho nearly bowled us over with the strength of his voice I was at least glad we'd be able to hear the other performers.

There were some excellent singers up there, but Cervantes was not one of them. I don't want to be mean, but he positively butchered the crescendo of "The Impossible Dream." I should also note that the musical is vastly superior on-stage than it is in the movie version. Keeping the story spun by Miguel de Cervantes grounded firmly in the imagination of the prisoners in the dungeon is a strength that is totally ruined by the film's hijacking it into dreary reality.

Sunday lunch was at Joe's, and then we were off to the races. Much Ado started at 2:00, and it was magnificent. No matter what else you may have to say about the Texas Shakespeare Festival, you cannot deny that they know comedy. Hilarious, total crowd-pleaser. They hammed it up something fierce in all the right directions. Benedick was amazing. Dogberry was amazing. Don John was amazing (albeit difficult to look at . . . that awful awful mullet wig). The timing was fantastic and the improvised stage directions were grand (Shakespeare being notably sparse on that front). This play is the first I've really been tempted to buy a copy of from them.

After a brief consultation, we headed to Chili's for dinner, and then returned for the 7:30 performance of Amadeus. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect . . . I didn't know that the movie (one of my favorites) was based on a stage play, for instance, or to what extent. The long and the short of it is, I was blown away. The fact is, I've only been to a few dozen professional stage productions in my life, and precious little modern drama, but this was by far the most intense experience I've had in a live setting. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the movie and what it has to say about music and the source of art. While the movie gives more time to Mozart himself, the play never loses sight of Salieri's obsession. Everything is seen through his eyes (and narration). Outrageously good.

I can't help but reflect, though, that the performance would have been better without the audience. The guy behind me guffawed like a middle-schooler every time Mozart said a naughty word. And I don't mean just a chuckle . . . I mean ridiculously prolonged gurgling that lasted far longer than even a reasonably funny joke should have allowed. A man on the very front row (we were on the 2nd) decided after 2 hours and 50 minutes (counting the 20 minute intermission) that he just couldn't possibly wait one more second and "snuck" out less than 10 minutes before the end, jarring a microphone on the way out. I'm sure the DVD people were thrilled with him.

And, most egregious by far, some pribbling tickle-brained clotpole didn't turn their kriffing cell phone off, and it went off during the final minutes . . . three freaking times. Unbelievable. Unjustifiable. Unforgivable. Frog-march the stupid sot to the nearest body of water and send his phone to sleep with da fishes. Oh, if only.

Thus ended the Texas Shakespeare Festival. I spent Monday with Wilson and Paige, meeting them in the liberal arts offices at about 10:30 (hardly anyone was there) before retiring to my apartment (where Rachel was waiting) to watch The History Boys. We broke halfway through for lunch with Randy and the Scholls at El Sombrero. Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the Scholls' place and chatted for awhile before accompanying Wilson to the train station.

We were surprised there by Dr. J, who had rushed over to catch Wilson on his way out (miscommunication had prevented contact earlier). Wilson's train was going to be an hour and a half late, so we ditched him there to return to business as usual in Longview. It was fun while it lasted.

Posted by Jared at 11:51 PM | TrackBack

July 12, 2007

Cloak of Deception

(Well, well . . . it's a trend. I finished Cloak of Deception over the weekend, about a week behind schedule, and now I'm halfway through Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Next up is the novelization of The Phantom Menace.)

Cloak of Deception was written by James Luceno and published in May of 2001. Luceno has unleashed half a dozen Star Wars novels on the world in the past 7 years, and he's still writing them. This was his 3rd foray. Other writings are largely also playing around in other people's universes: some Robotech books and the novelizations of The Shadow and The Mask of Zorro. In my opinion, his novels are about as distasteful as that resume suggests, but apparently the publishers and large segments of the fan community disagree. Luceno continues to receive juicy sections of the timeline to fill in, including the final book in the ambitious 19-book New Jedi Order series and the two novels that bookend Revenge of the Sith.

The book is set during the Rise of the Empire Era, covering several months beginning about a year before Episode I (or 33 years before Star Wars). It is currently the earliest such novel, although there are scads of junior novels that come before it, most notably the 19-book Jedi Apprentice series, detailing the apprenticeship of Obi-Wan Kenobi ad nauseum.

Connections: Luceno is a big fan of cameos, and several characters who are very important in other books or series make brief, minor appearances in Cloak of Deception. The alien Fosh Jedi, Vergere, forms part of the main Jedi team in the book. She will be captured by the Yuuzhan Vong a few years after this and reappear several decades later to play a key role in the New Jedi Order. Of course, Luceno has a personal interest in giving her extra screentime, as he created her character in the first place for his previously-written NJO novels. Jedi Master Jorus C'Baoth makes a brief appearance in the Jedi Temple. He plays a key role in the exploratory Outbound Flight a few years after this, only to disappear and pop up about a decade after Star Wars as a villanous Dark Jedi in Timothy Zahn's excellent Thrawn trilogy. Finally, Grand Moff Tarkin pops up as a lowly lieutenant governor (and friend of Senator Palpatine) on a backwater world.

Cloak of Deception relates the ridiculously complex backstory of the rising tensions and intrigue between the Trade Federation and the Republic that led to the blockade of Naboo seen at the beginning of Episode I. The cast of characters is enormous, almost to the point of being unwieldy. It includes a large number of Jedi (all recognizable from the movies, save a few notable exceptions like Vergere and C'Baoth), the Neimoidian leaders of the Trade Federation, numerous senators (most notably Senator Palpatine) and other government leaders, members of the Nebula Front (a "terrorist" organization), and various mercenaries. Each of these groups has their own subplot (some have more than one), and these labrynthine little storylines appear to be weaving intricately together into what we hope is a coherent whole . . . but it never quite gels.

The gist: The Nebula Front has hired mercenaries to carry out various and sundry plots designed to throw both the Republic and the Trade Federation into chaos (piratery, political assassinations and the like). Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (written with all the depth of a cardboard cut-out) are in full-on detective mode down the trail left by merc leader Captain Cohl and his sidekicks Rella and Boiny (what a wretched name). These three are easily the most interesting characters in the book, for what it's worth.

Meanwhile, the Trade Federation has entered into what they hope will be a mutually benificial relationship with Darth Sidious, but his schemes are quite a bit more sinister than they had expected. One assumes that he and his alter-ego, Senator Palpatine, are pulling all the strings from behind the scenes, but that is far from clear by the end. In fact, not much is clear except that something very complicated just happened and nobody really knows what it was (but some people know that they don't know).

As you can probably tell, I didn't think this book was all that good. It got off to a bad start, dragged heavily in the middle sections, and then picked up towards the climax, but failed to justify itself in the final pay-off. Luceno's writing feels like he is consciously trying to make it sound Star Wars, which just makes it feel artificial. Luceno also gets way too descriptive in all the wrong places. I don't need to know what a Jedi is. I don't need a detailed description of what a lightsaber looks like. There's really no good reason to aim Star Wars novels at someone who's never seen the movies.

On the flip side, after appearances in 3 books by Luceno, I still don't have a very clear picture of what Vergere looks like. The best mental image I can come up with based on his descriptions looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. And speaking of characters, Luceno just can't bring them to life. His alien characters are indistinguishable from his human characters. His Jedi are all the same (and all boring). Poor Obi-Wan literally has no personality at all.

There are some very promising moments spotted here and there. Captain Cohl and his gang are fun, and all of their scenes are good. The climax has a very intense Manchurian Candidate feel to it that I very much enjoyed (I'm not at all sure that it wasn't directly inspired by that film). And there's a great scene where the Jedi accidentally start a slave rebellion. Senator Palpatine feels like a very interesting character here, as we watch him wheel and deal and play political games with skill and style. But (and this, at least, isn't Luceno's fault) knowing that he's just an evil Sith Lord who wants to take over the galaxy for power's sake just drains all the interest right out of his motivations and machinations. Sad.

Grade: C

Posted by Jared at 12:17 PM | TrackBack

July 08, 2007

A Week Out West

Being much in need of vacation and a change of scenery, Rachel and I ventured to the Lubbock area last week (where they have no scenery) and chilled for a few days. I stayed up far too late on Sunday night, packing and preparing for a week away from home. Then Rachel drove me to work Monday morning so that she could finish getting everything ready and then pick me up from work and head straight for Dallas. I skipped my lunch hour so I could get off at 5 instead of 6.

It was a flawless plan, but for one thing (and I'm taking my life in my hands by telling you this): It foolishly relied on Rachel being both focused and punctual. I called her several times throughout the day to keep her on task and remind her of the little things that needed doing: turn off the AC, turn off all the lights, water your bamboo, check mail, grab my bags off of that one chair, etc. She was industrious. She was on track. She had it in the bag. Then she remembered the clearance sale at Michael's (90% off!) and something inside her snapped. She had to swing by, if only briefly, on her way to pick me up.

It was, by then, nearly 5:00, and so we conferred. She would drive to Michael's and quickly buy a few things that she'd had her eye on. I would walk to Burger King and get some dinner. She would then quickly join me, get her food to go, and we would be on our way. It wasn't a flawless plan, but it was a good plan . . . except that it still relied very foolishly on Rachel's punctuality and focus.

Well, I was unavoidably detained and I didn't actually leave the library until almost 5:25. Right before I walked out the door, I called Rachel . . . she was just pulling into Michael's. And so I set out, arriving at Burger King 10 minutes later after a not-unpleasant stroll. No sign of Rachel as yet, of course.

I ordered a combo meal. I got my drink. My number was called. I sat down to eat and popped open my book. I read several pages and finished my fries. I read a few more pages and sipped my drink. I read some more pages and chewed through a few bites of burger. I read some more and polished off half of the burger. After every period in this paragraph, I'm looking up, I'm glancing around, peering out various windows, hoping for a glimpse of my red truck pulling in from some direction or another. It doesn't appear.

I have no watch. I have no phone. I don't know how long I've been here, but it's been a long time. To make a long story short . . . I wrapped up the remains of my burger and walked towards the front door, hoping to spot a pay phone and figure out what could possibly have kept her (hopefully nothing of a tragic nature). About halfway to the door, I saw her pull in. She looked very sorry. It was 6:05. She'd forgotten that I was waiting for her . . . We drove out of Longview by 6:30 as I wondered why, exactly, I had skipped lunch.

Despite an inauspicious beginning, the drive to Dallas was pleasant, as was the drive to Lubbock with Ashley the following day. We were out of Dallas by about 9:30 and made it to my grandma's house in time for a late lunch. I read liberally (but not too liberally, due to the general squeamishness of half of my audience) from 5 People Who Died During Sex and 100 Other Terribly Tasteless Lists along the way.

We slacked off for the rest of the day, of course, and made use of the two Netflix I had brought along. First, I introduced Ashley to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, much to Ian's disgust ("That's the stupidest movie ever!"). My cousin Lucas was not such a Philistine ("No it's not, it's brilliant!"). Ashley was more appreciative than expected. I was struck once again by the fact that this is literally the best King Arthur movie ever made, both in terms of entertainment value and faithfulness to the spirit of the original legends and stories.

My parents pulled in with Micah a little later, and Brett and Holly came over not long after that. Micah, of course, was immediately absorbed in attacking his brand-new Mac laptop and playing with it at length. Brett, meanwhile, showed me his laptop and we talked movies, etc. After much socializing and dinner and whatnot, I made everyone watch "Shakespeare Abridged" (which I also brought with me). I particularly wanted Micah and my Grandma to see it. Good stuff, that.

Wednesday (the 4th) I pretty much got straight up and went to the park in Slaton where 4th of July festivities are held. There are various and sundry activities, most of which I ignore. They include, but are not limited to: a dunk tank, a game involving opposing fire hoses and a large ball hanging from a wire in the middle, various foodstuffs, an auction, and a concert. Of course, we spent all of our time there during the "country" portion of the concert and left just as they were starting in on "classic rock." Grrr. We also arrived just in time for all the food to run out, so we picked up lunch from Sonic and sat around jawing in the shade of a large tree . . . where I was consumed alive by a swarm of mosquitos!

No joke . . . I noticed that there were a lot of them buzzing around at some point and suddenly discovered that someone had brought Off, so I sprayed it liberally around, but by then it was apparently too late. I didn't notice until later that evening, but I was bitten worse than anyone . . . about 2 dozen bites around my left ankle alone (there are still small scars). Most of my lower half was one large, excruciating itch for the next 2 or 3 days, but I managed to ignore it mostly after the first night.

Anyway, after we packed up from the park, I visited a fireworks stand with my brothers, Rachel, and Holly. I had a budget of $60 (generously donated by my absent granddad and my dad), and Brett bought some of his own. We left with a sizeable pile and went home to wait out the remaining hours of daylight. Brett talked me into popping in Apocalypto which we watched until my other cousins arrived (about 15 minutes before the end).

After dinner, sunset was still a few hours away and arguing about the war in Iraq wasn't going to be any better than sitting and listening ot its virtues extolled (yes, some people still think it was a good idea, that things are going well, and that America Can Do No Wrong). Clearly, ultimate frisbee was called for. We started with a game of catch among four until enough people gathered, and wound up playing 6 on 6 for a good hour.

My team got trashed, mostly because we dropped all the really awful passes we threw while the other team caught all the really awful passes they threw. Also, Micah can apparently jump 3 times his own height, which makes passing to him much easier (and it came in useful every time the frisbee went onto the roof). And then fireworks. Things didn't quiet down until late, so that was it for the 4th.

I knocked out the rest of Apocalypto when I got up, and I was favorably impressed. It was much better than I expected. We were going to leave just after lunch to spend a large chunk of the day in Lubbock, but there was a very violent storm and we stayed in and watched The Importance of Being Earnest before leaving to see Ratatouille (my second time, review up on Moviegoings). It was just as good the second time as the first. Dinner at CiCi's finished the outing.

On Friday, Rachel demanded that we watch some of my Grandma's cartoons, starting with The Fox and the Hound (one of Disney's weaker entries, IMO, at least before their really awful period a few years ago). In any case, we were interrupted halfway through by an offer to visit Old Mill Trade Days, a local . . . shopping event of some sort. I passed. Rachel went with Ashley and my Grandma. I spent a few hours blasting Micah through the undead campaign on WarCraft III, cuz he's a mite squeamish. While I did that, Rachel had time to go and return (with many wondrous things acquired for very cheap), finish The Fox and the Hound, and watch Babe.

After dinner, I put on Citizen Kane since I was somehow the only one in the entire house who had ever seen it. Hard to say how it was received, overall. I know Rachel and Ian were bored to tears. Micah, Ashley and Lucas endured it well enough. My dad wandered in after about 20 minutes and promptly fell asleep, but that's no surprise. Citizen Kane is a great movie, but it won't exactly keep you on the edge of your seat. After everybody else went to bed, Rachel, Ashley and I watched the first half of Rent. (Ashley, never having seen it, had difficulty following the stage version.)

Saturday was extremely uneventful. I played through Frozen Throne and finished the book I was working on (Reduced Shakespeare by Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin of "Shakespeare Abridged" . . . a hilarious, but scholarly, look at all things Shakespearean). Rachel wandered off Lubbock-ward with Ashley. My mom took Micah back to camp (where he is working this summer), and returned with the latest version of Pride and Prejudice, which we didn't watch all the way through before everyone else went to bed . . . so we just finished Rent.

We pulled out Sunday morning for a very uneventful drive to Dallas, during which I read a sizable chunk of Stephen Prothero's American Jesus: How the Son of God Became an American Icon, a fascinating and engagingly-written piece of cultural history which I am rather enjoying. Prothero is an excellent writer, and he is a very fair and objective writer as well. Plenty of witty observation, no cheap shots. We pulled into Ashley's house by around 3 and jawed for a few hours before speeding back to Longview, where I found Hell House waiting. If you want to see something scarier and more disquieting than Jesus Camp (why?), then this is your documentary.

And that brings my vacation to a successful conclusion.

Posted by Jared at 11:49 PM | TrackBack