friends, NBA, Utah Jazz

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2011-2012 Utah Jazz!

Two wizards. Only one John Stockton.

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I — if you don’t know which of us is writing this based on the title of this post, then hello, and glad you just discovered our blog! — have great co-workers. I’ll give you an example of how great they are. I went into work last week and found on my desk a Starting Lineup John Stockton figurine. Behind him, propped in a plexiglass holder, were about twenty-five sheets of paper labeled “INSPIRATIONAL JOHN STOCKTON SAYING” with a big speech bubble in the middle of the page. I began flipping through the pages, stirred by pithy maxims like, “Plan the work and work the plan,” “Let me know where you want the ball,” and, “You look really good today.” The final ten pages or so were left blank for me to write my own inspirational sayings, as if I could possibly improve upon that last one.

What’s great about my co-workers is that no less than five of them were reasonable suspects for this stunt. (The mastermind, it turns out, was Michael Link. I asked him where he found a Starting Lineup John Stockton and he, in response, asked me how much I thought it was worth, giving me an over/under of five dollars. “Oh, way more than that,” I said. “Good,” he replied, “that’s what I want you to think.”) What’s also great is that, any time during my day when I need a little inspiration, I can look at a small, plastic figurine of number twelve and, mentally, see this:

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And I am instantly ready to plan the work and work the plan.

For a season preview of my beloved Utah Jazz, it’s probably telling that I spent the first 250 words going on about someone who has been retired for almost a decade now. (“You’re living in the past!” is what a Cleveland Cavs fan shouted at me a couple years ago. I picture that fan now, looking at himself in the mirror in his Ramon Sessions jersey, wondering every time Antawn Jamison hoists a three if it would be possible to take a tire iron to his shooting hand and make it look like an accident.) This year, for the first time since 1988, the Utah Jazz reported to camp and Jerry Sloan was not its head coach. The last link to the great Stockton/Malone era was gone. The shock of last season’s tailspin after Sloan left and Deron Williams was traded to the Nets wore off during the offseason but then hit me anew last month. Oh yeah. Times have changed.

One day we’ll hand this over … to Devin Harris and Derrick Favors.

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My expectations for this season were the lowest they have ever been, even after Stockton retired and Malone left for the Lakers in 2003. Utah traded Mehmet Okur for table scraps. It signed Jamaal Tinsley, the dumbest thing the franchise has done since re-signing Greg Ostertag (a move that surely shaved ten years off Sloan’s life). It lost its first two games in spectacularly bad fashion, by a combined 42 points to the Nuggets and the Lakers. Raja Bell was declared officially dead by a Utah coroner before someone pointed out that he was still walking and talking and therefore technically alive. Gordon Hayward had not progressed much in the offseason. Enes Kanter, the third pick in the draft, was hardly setting the world on fire.

And then … (and yes, I cheated by waiting until three weeks into the season before writing this) … I felt hopeful. After dropping three of the first four, Utah has rattled off five straight wins. None have been against especially strong teams, but still. This is a young, hungry team. We suddenly have size and athleticism in the frontcourt. Josh Howard was a great pick-up. Al Jefferson may not actually be a total stiff. Ty Corbin may have learned something from all those years under Sloan.

I’m not going to delude myself that the Jazz is going to contend for anything this year. It’s going to be a weird season, but one that will certainly favor the younger squads. Had you asked me three weeks ago if Utah would make the playoffs, I’d have said certainly not. Now? I’m cautiously optimistic. It’d be a seven or eight seed at best, but that’d be a real accomplishment for this team, and something to build on.

I was all shook up when Utah dealt Deron Williams last year. Now, knowing that D-Will would never have re-signed with the Jazz — and watching his Nets stink up the Atlantic Division — I confess a certain degree of smug satisfaction. I like Williams and hope he (and Okur) turn things around. Williams was instrumental, in one way or another, of forcing Sloan out (though whether Sloan jumped or was pushed we’ll probably never know). Sloan would’ve left eventually, of course. So we soldier on. It’s a strange time to be a Jazz fan, but at least they’re playing games. That’s something to be thankful for.

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My NBA blogging will probably be a bit more sporadic this season, especially as I resolve not to curse the Bulls (and my friend and fellow NBA junkie Scott Guldin) by saying anything good about them. It’s a bit shoddy to make predictions three weeks into the season, but I like the Thunder in the West, even though Russell Westbrook is a head case who will absolutely never co-exist long term with Kevin Durant. I won’t tell you who I like in the East because … well, see above.

Your obligatory Mark Eaton pic:

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Let’s go Jazz.

[h/t Erik Brueggemann on the Stockton/wizard pic]

music, voreplay

2011: The Year in Music

I am angry and have a cane!

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2011 may well be the year our music tastes stopped evolving. Chances are we’ll look back on this year from some future vantage point and see the transformation of our musical tastes from still-somewhat-adventurous-middle-age to full-curmudgeon, distrustful of the new, always pining for the old and familiar. In other words: We shook our cane at James Blake and told him to get off our porch.

None of the music we loved this year could be called especially new or groundbreaking. It was all our usual comfort food. We gobbled up albums by Wilco, Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes; shed a tear as we hummed along to R.E.M.’s career-spanning anthology; welcomed the return of “old” Ryan Adams even as we wished he wrote better lyrics. We were happy sticking with the familiar.

When we did order something new off the menu, we were almost always disappointed. Florence + The Machine? One of us (Ben) liked, one (Erin) wasn’t so sure. The aforementioned James Blake? Dubstep, shmubstep. We wanted to like Cults and Cut Copy and The War on Drugs  and The Weeknd more than we actually did.

The boldest step (if you can call it bold) we took this year in the realm of music was embracing Spotify. We like Spotify. (We wish a pox on Spotify + Facebook, however. A pox!) It did nothing to curb our musical purchasing (except, perhaps, to ward us off what otherwise would have been ill-advised, sight-unseen purchases). What it mostly did was allow us to indulge in a little game we called Shameful Guilty Pleasures From Our Youth, in which we tried to surprise the other with an even more shameful guilty pleasure from the 80s or 90s that we once embraced with every angsty fiber of our teenage bodies. (See: Soul Asylum; Everclear; Crash Test Dummies; Sloan; P.M. Dawn; Screaming Trees; and Butthole Surfers.)

Before we get to the list, we’ll start with what was certainly the musical highlight of the year: Seeing U2 in Nashville on July 2. The picture below (courtesy of Flickr) is of Vanderbilt Stadium, where “The Claw” descended to serve as the stage for the evening.

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It was the first time U2 had played Nashville in thirty years. The last time Bono and the gang swung through Music City was to play Underwood Auditorium on the campus of Vanderbilt in 1981. This time they brought with them a monstrosity of a set which, according to U2’s website, featured “a cylindrical video system of interlocking LED panels and a steel structure rising 150 feet from the floor over a massive stage with rotating bridges.” Ben texted a picture to his brother, who texted back, “What is that, and where are you?”

U2’s unabashed grandiosity has always been its charm, and occasionally its overreach. But there’s something to be said for a band that aims as high as U2. For two people who don’t usually do big, stadium-sized shows, we were giddy during the whole thing. And it wasn’t just because we were hanging out with Seth and Miriam Swihart (though that never hurts).

Honorable mentions for albums this year include the Buddy Holly tribute Rave On; Mr. Adams and his Ashes & Fire; Strange Negotiations, David Bazan; and The Black Keys’ El Camino.

Now, on to the list. (Previously, 2008, 2009 and 2010.)

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10. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean. Like Justin Vernon (#9), Sam Beam opened up his trademark sound to incorporate some poppier elements — in Kiss Each Other Clean’s case, that meant some sweet saxomophone.

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9. Bon Iver, Bon Iver.  It was no For Emma, Forever Ago, but Bon Iver’s self-titled follow-up staked out new territory for Justin Vernon and featured the should-have-been-cringeworthy-but-somehow-he-pulls-it-off closer “Beth/Rest,” what Rolling Stone calls “an unlikely sweet spot between Nick Drake and Peter Cetera.”

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8. Over The Rhine, The Long Surrender. Erin’s favorite OTR album since Ohio, and Ben’s favorite with the exception of Snow Angels. The fact Karin and Linford played a free show, at Ben’s place of employment (a bookstore, not a record store), on the day the album released, may have had something to do with it cracking the Top 10. They’re good folks.

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7. Josh Garrels, Love & War & The Sea In Between. It’d be a misnomer to call Josh Garrels “praise” music, and yet no album this year was more of a worship album for us than this one. Before we scare you off it completely, Garrels’ musicianship merits inclusion on this list. Everyone we recommended it to loved it as well. You can check it out yourself (for free!) at Garrels’ website.

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6. Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin‘. The hip-shakingest pick of our Top #10, and the only one with any real soul. Props to Mr. Saadiq for casting Cutty from “The Wire” in his video for “Good Man.”

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5. Wilco, The Whole Love. It is not our favorite Wilco album, but even a just-OK Wilco album has enough moments of pure rock-out joy to crack #5 on our list. The Whole Love may be a bit scattered, musically, so think of it as a Wilco smorgasbord and chow down on the good stuff (“Born Alone,” “I Might,” “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”).

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4. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues. Nature make-out music. But it says something about this year’s list that we still don’t consider Helplessness Blues to be the prettiest album we heard all year. (Wait for #1. Wait for it.)

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3. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead.  A little folk rock gem that borrows heavily from early R.E.M. (perhaps because Peter Buck turns up on three songs here), The King Is Dead is a beautifully concise set of ten songs that range from country to Americana to rock. It’s the first Decemberists’ album we actually wanted to listen to from start to finish.

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2. Girl Talk, All DayTheoretically, anyone could sit in front of a computer and create these Frankenstein mash-ups. What Gregg Gillis does is provide just the right jolt of electricity to bring them to life, repurposing anything and everything that’s ever hit the Top 40 over the last five decades and providing a sort of Cliff’s Notes education in pop music while simultaneously creating great party music. When the current is flowing, as on the latter half of All Day, it makes for mesmerizing listening, especially if you’re ADD or running long distances. (Yes, we know this is technically a 2010 release, but we listened to it as much as any other album in 2011. And it was late 2010.)

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1. Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest. Coming eight years after Soul Journey, The Harrow & The Harvest is intimate, lovely, often haunting. It veers into darker territory lyrically but never loses its gentle, easy grace. The ten songs compiled here sound timeless: simple, spare and evocative. The term “slow music” sounds a bit insulting, but we mean it in the best sense when we say that Welch writes some of the finest slow music out there.

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TOP FIVE SONGS OF THE YEAR!

“Born Alone,” Wilco. Boom goes the dynamite.

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“Second Song,” TV On The Radio. We were underwhelmed by Nine Types of Light, but not this track (even though “You” is the song off this album appearing on most critics’ lists).

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“Go To Hell,” Raphael Saadiq. What starts as a confessional (“Here’s the situation, yes, the devil knows me well/See I’m trying to do my best not to go to hell”) turns into a soaring, full chorus refrain to “let love bring us together.”

“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bon Iver (covering Bonnie Raitt). From his appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

“Oh My God,” Cults. Though we didn’t warm to the whole album, this track is instantly likable. Is it just us, or is there a creepy resemblance between Madeline Follin’s balloons exploding and the scene in Aliens where the Queen Alien’s body is shellacked with Lt. Ellen Ripley’s pulse rifle grenade blasts?

books

2011: The Year In Books

I will have written another book by the time you finish this sentence.

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At Ben’s place of employment (a bookstore), we have a running joke that if you missed the latest James Patterson novel, just wait three weeks for the next one. (We also have a running joke that James Patterson and James Caan are in fact the same person. Have you ever seen them together? No? Us either.)

So it seems only fitting that Mr. Patterson, who officially “wrote” eleven books in 2011, introduce our “Year in Books” post with his trademark door-kicking bravado. Brace yourself!

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“Killer” entertainment, get it?

As is usually the case, the majority of our favorite books this year were fiction. One technically came out in 2010: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. The main character of Rachman’s book is an English language newspaper in Rome, with each chapter focussing on a different staff member at the paper. Rachman’s comic, bittersweet tone hints at a prevailing sense of decline; these characters are an endangered species in an era of shrinking profits and online journalism. Rachman instills them with honor even though they are on the verge of becoming extinct. “This room once contained all the world,” Rachman writes of a deserted newsroom. The Imperfectionists does likewise.

Before plunging ahead with the rest of the fiction, we’ll highlight the two non-fiction picks on our best-of-the-year list. And for the record, in case it needs to be stated, we have really in fact read all of these books. We promise.

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LITTLE PRINCES, Conor Grennan. We were surprised how much we liked Grennan’s account of volunteering at a Nepalese orphanage called the Little Princes Children’s Home. Surprised because it was billed as “inspirational,” a word we typically associate with the latest Mitch Albom book and therefore avoid like the plague. But Grennan’s story is genuinely uplifting without being melodramatic or schmaltzy. A three month volunteer stint turns into a full time calling after Grennan realizes that these orphans are anything but and travels into the remote mountain villages of the Himalayas to reunite them with their families. What’s most appealing about Grennan is that while his story is extraordinary he is unremarkable. Little Princes reminds us that virtue possesses no special skill, except sometimes stubbornness.

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THE DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC, Candace Millard. James Garfield probably got scant mention in your high school history class, and the worst thing that can be said about Millard’s The Destiny of the Republic is that it perhaps makes Garfield out to be a slightly more consequential figure than his tragically brief presidency allowed. The best thing that can be said about the book is that it is highly readable, even gripping popular history — the kind of story you read and think, “How did I never know about this moment in American history?” If you read and liked Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, this is better. Larson’s book is fine enough, but whereas Devil was a smattering of historical details that all occurred in the same time and place, Destiny is a masterful narrative where every seemingly disparate thread fits together by the end.

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And now on to the fiction. We’ll start with our favorite young adult book of 2011:

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, Ransom Riggs. Ben may be slightly biased as he attended school with Ransom, but even if we didn’t know Mr. Riggs, Miss Peregrine (soon to be a movie) is the kind of offbeat read that imprints you with its strangeness and peculiar charm. If the creepy picture of the levitating girl on the cover didn’t tip you off, it won’t take long before you realize you’ve entered a world that makes the “Twilight Zone” look mundane. That Riggs can bridge the fantastic with the commonplace and do so in a way that feels completely fresh in the burgeoning field of “Strange YA Novels” bodes well for whatever he does next. (He’s already promised a sequel.)

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THE ILLUMINATION, Kevin Brockmeier. The Illumination starts with a simple premise — what if our pain expressed itself in light? — and spins it into a fantastical but grounded meditation on love and suffering. This conceit could easily devolve into a gimmick in the hands of a lesser writer, or played for easy sentimentality or blunt allegory. Brockmeier is craftier. It helps that he really knows how to write a sentence. The lives of his characters may ripple with pain, but in wrestling with that pain they escape superficiality. Brockmeier, to his great credit, does the same.

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FAITH, Jennifer Haigh. This is a tough one to recommend because of its subject matter — a priest accused of sexually abusing a child. Ben tried numerous times to put it in the hands of customers, but the second he revealed what it was about they thrust it back at him, as if the book itself was stained. So, please, just hear us out: Faith is a beautiful book that handles a delicate subject with grace. Haigh is less concerned with religious belief than the kind of feeling that holds a family together — or tears it apart. In less capable hands the subject matter would be the stuff of tabloid drama. Not with Haigh. She proves you can write a beautiful, redemptive story about an ugly subject.

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STATE OF WONDER, Ann Patchett. State of Wonder is Patchett’s play on Heart of Darkness, with a feminine twist: Her Kurtz is Dr. Anneck Swenson, a tough, compelling, single-minded force of nature  laboring deep in the Amazon jungle on a miracle drug that would extend a woman’s fertility into old age. Dr. Marina Singh is her ex-student who goes to the jungle in search of the remains and affects of a deceased colleague who worked with Swenson. Patchett is a skilled writer, and she does a masterful job painting the Amazon as “the beating heart of nowhere.” There are many surprises in store in State of Wonder, and she dispenses them patiently, all in good time.

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THE ART OF FIELDING, Chad Harbach. The jacket designer for The Art of Fielding was careful to convey baseball without saying baseball, for fear of scaring away potential readers who loathe the sport (a k a, women). However you feel about the sport should not keep you from The Art of Fielding, a college baseball book which may outwardly resemble a Jonathan Franzen novel but is superior in several ways, not least of which is the warmth and humor Harbach demonstrates towards his characters. They all go through miserable stretches, but Harbach’s touch is light and his writing both precise and expansive. He makes it a pleasure to read about people going through unpleasurable circumstances.

(Incidentally, James Patterson himself blurbed this book, saying, “Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is one of those rare novels — like Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh or John Irving’s The World According to Garp — that seems to appear out of nowhere and then dazzles and bewitches and inspires until you nearly lose your breath from the enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as the unexpected news-blast that the novel is very much alive and well.” We can’t say we lost our breath, but maybe Patterson said this right after he kicked that door down.)

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And finally, our favorite book of 2011:

THE TIGER’S WIFE, Tea Obreht. Set in the war-torn Balkans, The Tiger’s Wife moves between multiple storylines and characters, central among them the narrator Natalia and her deceased grandfather, both physicians; a “deathless man” who haunts the narrative with his cheerful inability to pass on; and a tiger and the deaf-mute woman who shares an uncommon bond with it. The novel evokes the rhythms and language of an elaborate folk tale. Everything in the book — not just the people but the animals and the ravaged landscape itself — has a story to tell, and Obreht’s balance between myth and fact, superstition and reason, is consummate, belying her youth. (She is all of twenty-six years old.) The Tiger’s Wife is, above all else, a family saga, the story of those people who came before us and how their stories shape our own. We can’t wait to see what Obreht does next.

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Previous Best of Year in Books: 2008, 2009 and 2010.

books, retail

The Lowest Price And The Best Deal.

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Last Saturday, Amazon invited customers, while browsing brick-and-mortar retailers, to use its new price-check app and earn up to five dollars off any three non-book items. Today, the novelist Richard Russo penned an op-ed for the New York Times gathering the thoughts of some of his author friends, among them Stephen King, Ann Patchett and Scott Turow (president of the Authors Guild), about this kind of promotion. They describe it with phrases like “invasive and unfair,” “a bridge too far,” a “bare-knuckles approach” and “scorched-earth capitalism.” The most eloquent of Russo’s subjects is Patchett, the owner of a new independent bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus Books. Says Patchett,

I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it. If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon.

Writing in trademark contrarian fashion over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo, in an article not-so-subtly titled “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller,” takes issue with Russo, Patchett et al. After acknowledging that “Amazon just did a boneheaded thing, and it deserves all the scorn you want to heap on it,” Manjoo counters,

Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?

Readers of this blog are well-acquainted with our views on independent retailers (particularly bookstores), shopping locally and the virtues (in our minds) of a book you can hold in your hands versus one you can read on a computer screen. Because one of his makes his livelihood working at a bookstore, we obviously have a dog in this fight. It’s no mystery where we come down on Russo vs. Manjoo.

What is Manjoo really asking for, though? Yes, it can be a frustrating experience to go shopping anywhere this time of year, and there’s a certain sedating charm in the ease of ordering online (assuming you know what it is that you want). But what we find lacking in Manjoo’s perfect world is anything resembling human interaction. The joys of browsing a bookstore, beyond comfy chairs, hot coffee and a space to do your best thinking, are running into a friend or former teacher while you’re there; hearing an author speak in person and then meeting him after the reading while he signs and personalizes your book; having a place to go on a cheap date night; taking your child to story time, where you are treated to the sublime pleasures of Pete the Cat; and conversing with a bookseller about an author you just read and loved (or hated) and being told what you should read next (or avoid). Yes, Amazon has wonderful algorithms that tell you what other people who bought the same book as you bought next. But is that really an educated recommendation? Isn’t a person — hopefully a knowledgeable one, who asks what you like to read rather than just foisting something he likes upon you — far better than an algorithm? (Manjoo is a technology columnist, so he probably has poor interpersonal skills.)

Manjoo also takes issue with “the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like Russo” by arguing that there really isn’t much that’s “local” about your local bookstore. “Unlike a farmers’ market, which connects you with the people who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your house,” he writes, “an independent bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community.” Except, of course, for the investment that any local business has in its schools, nonprofits and the community; for the tax base it provides that community, which Amazon does not; and (not least of all to us) for the jobs it provides.

Today at work, I (Ben) saw one of my favorite customers, someone who hadn’t been in for a while. I asked him how he was doing. His mother was in the hospital. He had just finished moving into a smaller home with his wife, who was newly retired. Neither of them had found their retirement footing yet. He said he needed to come to the store to “relax and get lost in a book.” He asked for two that we had in stock, and I put two more in his hands that he hadn’t heard of yet. He gave me a smile and shook my hand. Both of us had a better day for it.

family, friends, movies, NBA, Sam, Scooter Thomas, sports, Utah Jazz

Voreblog Power Rankings: December 8, 2011

Ranking who’s currently wearing the pants in the Vore household. Previous rankings here and here.

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Entering the list dead last.

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8. TUESDAY’S DATE NIGHT. Previous ranking: N/A

You know you’re in for a bad date night movie when your babysitter tells you, as you’re walking out the door, “Oh, I saw that over Thanksgiving break and it was terrible.” We knew the movie in question, Breaking Dawn, would not be good, but just how not good it was startled even our low, low expectations. Taylor Lautner needed all of five seconds to rip his shirt off, while the CGI sequences involving wolves speaking to one another were almost as bad as the flaming moose CGI sequence from Knowing. (Almost.) Date nights being a rare commodity, Tuesday’s date night was, shall we say, a Flaming Moose. Did you know? Jacob imprinted.

7. OUR CHRISTMAS TREE. Previous ranking: N/A

Charlie Brown, move over.

Our five foot artificial Christmas tree is sparkling and festive … starting at three and a half feet up. The Vore Christmas tree is #7 this year thanks to #4 and #1. O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, how lovely are thy topmost branches.

6. ERIN (down). Previous ranking: #4

After being dealt a grievous blow by David Stern and the National Basketball Association, Erin last night suffered another setback at the hands of the site Vistaprint, which suckered her into designing a super-sweet Christmas card only to tack on an egregious charge for envelopes before slipping in an even more egregious shipping charge which we had to pay if we wanted to see our cards before next February, so that what started out as an enjoyable endeavor filled with Christmas cheer soon devolved into a price-gouging, knicker-twisting, profanity-laced tirade at 11:30 at night. To top it all off, Gmail’s new look is terrible. Future prospects: Grim. A Google search about how to switch back to the old Gmail format proved fruitless. On the bright side: Vetoed Ben’s favorite cow ornament. On the less bright side: Ben put her Graeters black raspberry chip in the fridge instead of the freezer the other night. This was honestly not payback.

5. BEN (down). Previous ranking: #3

Despite once again failing to appear on People’s Sexiest Men list, Ben has, for the first time in his five year fantasy football career, qualified for the Mustache League playoffs thanks to his savvy midseason pickups of Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray and whoever is playing defense against the Chiefs. Ben is also ecstatic to have an NBA season this year, and has spent the last two weeks doing meticulous research on the new luxury tax and its ramifications on Utah’s bloated payroll. Though things look grim in Salt Lake this season, at least there’ll be basketball. Good news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Bad news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Also: Unlike Tim Tebow, Ben cannot pull another man into the bathroom during a tug-of-war contest.

4. SCOOTER THOMAS (up). Previous ranking: #5

After his precipitous fall from the top spot in the power rankings, Scooter Thomas has since regained his footing by asserting his dominance over the Christmas Tree (#7) — by eating the (fake) needles off all the bottom “branches” and then regurgitating them back into his food dish. (Why?) Despite the incoherence of this behavior, what’s undeniable is that Scooter T. has his mojo back. On the downside: Negligent owners forgot to fill his water dish yesterday, resulting in him licking the bathtub floor after Erin’s shower this morning. Sad.

3. CAMILLE AND MIKE ALLEN. Previous ranking: N/A

For sending us a Christmas card with the following message on the front: “Happy Holidays!” And the following message inside: “…is what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!” We were going to do the same thing but we didn’t have the cojones. Future prospects: Bleak. How will they top this next year? Guess they’ll have to have a kid or something.

2. GRANDPARENTS (same). Previous ranking: #2

The grandparents maintain their perch at #2, thanks to traction with the head honcho (see #1) and a willingness to indulge his sweet tooth with second helpings of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving (Nana and Papa) and fawn over him via Skype while he attempts in vain to pound the keyboard (Mamaw and Papaw). Grandparenting. Can’t beat it.

Papa and le tigre.

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Papa, Nana, le tigre.

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Papaw and Mamaw, Skypers extraordinaire.

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1. SAM (same). Previous ranking: #1

Aside from a small bout of diaper rash, Sam continues to own the power rankings with his Christmas Tree dominance and irrepressible ability to bend everyone’s will to his liking. (“Sam wants more pie? Well sure, let’s give it to him!”) With a burgeoning vocabulary and firm handle on the sign for “more,” Sam runs shop at the Vore household, crashing trucks down the stairs to his heart’s content and getting Classical Baby on demand whenever he so chooses. He also knows just the right moment to grab and pull at Scooter Thomas’s tail whenever his feline nemesis gets a little too chippy. Future prospects: Bright. Despite the need for absolutely nothing for Christmas, he’s still everyone’s favorite to shop for. Ain’t that the life.

marital tension, NBA, sports

BREAKING NEWS: NBA Season is On!

NEW YORK (AP) — NBA owners and players reached a tentative agreement early Saturday to end the 149-day lockout despite intense, eleventh hour attempts by Erin Vore to provoke tensions on both sides and prolong the standoff until the end of time.

“I am bitterly disappointed that both sides reached an agreement,” Vore told reporters. “I thought maybe I’d never have to be subjected to a Utah Jazz post again. Well, that dream is dead.”

The NBA hopes to begin the delayed season on Christmas Day. “Great, way to ruin my favorite holiday,” Vore said.

“We want to play basketball,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “No, we don’t,” Vore added.

After a secret meeting earlier this week, the sides met for more than 15 hours Friday, working to try to save the season. Vore, present at the talks, sat next to Derek Fisher and held up signs that said, “CAN’T WAIT FOR NUCLEAR WINTER!” throughout the tense negotiations.

According to sources present during the talks, Vore berated Stern for being a “pansy” and a “turdburger.”

The usually unflappable Stern appeared particularly shaken when, after calling for reconciliation and labeling past disagreements as “unfortunate,” Vore shouted, “Your mom is unfortunate!” Later Vore added, “Before we’re done here, y’all be wearing gold-plated diapers.”

“What does that even mean?” Stern whispered to NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who shrugged as he deleted the 724th e-mail from Scott Guldin to his BlackBerry requesting that the price of the League Pass be lowered.

This handshake deal almost didn’t happen when Vore began pulling down her pants in an apparent attempt to poop on the actual handshake. She was restrained by security and escorted outside where she crumpled on the sidewalk and sobbed for an hour.

movies

Crazy, Stupid Love

All cringe, all the time.

xx

“It’s been a really long year,” Emily (Julianne Moore) says to Cal (Steve Carell), at the end of Crazy, Stupid Love. The year in question has seen Emily and Cal separate following her unfaithfulness, which leads to Cal’s serial unfaithfulness, given a big assist by Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who decides one day to take this sad, rumpled, middle-aged man whom he met in a bar under his wing and teach him how to be a womanizer. (The first thing to do, apparently, is not wear New Balance shoes or shop at The Gap.) Meanwhile, Emily and Cal’s kids, Robbie and Molly, deal with their parents’ separation by masturbating and dancing in front of the TV, respectively. Robbie’s babysitter Jessica just happens to walk in on him doing the deed, which is kind of ironic because Robbie tells her afterwards that he thinks about her when he does it. It’s even more awkward when Robbie later discovers that Jessica is in fact in love with his dad.

There’s more, but we won’t spoil the convoluted mess that is Crazy, Stupid Love for you if you missed it in theaters but plan on catching it on DVD. We spent the movie alternating between these two thoughts: Why did all of these A-list actors (including Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon) sign on to this movie, and how much worse would it be if they hadn’t? The coincidences are outrageous, the contrivances numerous. The most profound thing the movie appears to be saying about love is that it hurts. But Nazareth told us that thirty five years ago, and they did it in under four minutes.

Crazy, Stupid Love ends with a big set piece involving a middle school graduation where Cal steps out of the audience to interrupt his son Robbie’s salutatorian speech. Carrell has always been good at making audiences laugh and cringe at the same time, but this scene is all cringe. Robbie spews cynicism about life and love as only a jilted thirteen year old can, so Cal must reaffirm for his son — and his estranged wife, and the viewer, lest anyone fear this movie about things going wrong won’t make them all right in the end — that there is such a thing as soul mates and that loving people sometimes means hating them too but that’s okay. Robbie, emboldened by his father’s sudden recovery, professes his love again for babysitter Jessica, also in the audience. Later, Jessica rewards Robbie for his bullheaded but delusional romantic pursuit by giving him naked pictures of herself originally intended for her dad. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The best part, by far, was finding out during the credits that the dopey-looking guy who Emma Stone was originally with was in fact Josh Groban. That’s not saying much.

Our favorite remark from Metacritic’s page for Crazy, Stupid Love comes from the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips: “This is the ‘Babel’ or ‘Crash’ of ensemble romantic comedies.” I think we can all agree that the romcom genre does not need its own Babel or Crash.