Friday, December 28, 2007

Ostensibly unwanted

More catching up...

A couple weeks ago my department at work had a holiday luncheon. Afterward there was a "white elephant" gift exchange. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea (at least in how it is practiced in this case) is to give items that are intentionally tacky or of questionable desirability. Re-gifting is not only allowable but tacitly encouraged. The way it plays out, in what tends to be given, this turns into something of an ironic exploration of the items that someone put non-ironic effort into producing (and which ended up being sold at the 99 cent store).

The truly incongruous element to the exchange is that when a person has a turn to select a gift, it is allowable to steal what someone else already opened. This suggests that the item in question is at least in some way non-ironically desirable, and negates the "white elephant" aspect (which, by definition, should be something one should not want to get but one should seek to get rid of). I digress.

An item that was not stolen but selected (as the only unopened gift) by the last person to choose this year was a calendar featuring photos of longhorn steer. Or cattle. I forget which is which (one still has its bits and pieces, one doesn't—I know that much… I think). Anyway, it's pictures of the animals for which the University of Texas takes its nickname, one after another, for 16 months (yes, not merely a 12-month extravaganza). In an office in downtown Los Angeles, of course this seems like the sort of thing one would get stuck with but never want.

Days later I saw the calendar on the desk of the person who got it, unwrapped and laid open to the December 2008 page. At first I glanced at it with the appropriate level of ironic appreciation for someone who regularly watches The Soup. The shot featured the animal essentially in profile (that is, showing it from the side), with its head turned to face the camera. Yep, it's a longhorn.

But then I looked at the photo closer.

The animal's body was almost facing directly the late afternoon, nearly setting sun, so the light was coming at it almost horizontally. With the head turned it cast a phenomenal shadow of the head and one long horn against the side of its body. The composition was genuinely impressive. I know only a bit about photography, but I'm certain it's the sort of shot that the photographer was lucky to capture. I've worked a bit with cows as a subject (long story) and I found them to be entirely dismissive to pose suggestions, so I can't imagine the photographer did anything to specifically position the animal thusly; he just happened to push the shutter when finally the animal glanced his way (and cast the shadow).

It was, by any aesthetic criterion I'd use to judge photos, a good picture. Frankly, I'd be very pleased to get a shot that good, regardless of the subject.

And there I was: Appreciating it outside of even the slightest hint of irony. All because I took the time to investigate whether it held genuine value.

The thing is: Its genuine value was always there. I merely failed to see it previously.

I am not being sarcastic. I say that with absolute sincerity. Yes, it's hideously telling that I feel compelled to mention that, as though my audience wouldn't believe me unless I clarified I wasn't winking at them (so to speak).

Now, to address what I suspect some readers may be expecting me to reveal: No, I did not give the calendar. (For the record: I put a box of bendy drinking straws in a gift bag along with a box of crayons—both items I merely had in my desk. I intended them to merely play against the idea of being tacky by being merely unexpected. Don't judge me.) That would give this story a better ending, complete with requisite character development, but as I'm sticking entirely in the realm of sincerity I cannot fabricate details out of convenience.

I don't think I can participate in the exchange next year. Everything otherwise cheesy will hold a hidden quality I never noticed before; I won't be able to find anything, and I'll kind of think less of those who fail to see it.

Well, maybe it won't go that far…


And even there I try to put the quaint little ironic spin on the end. That's what deserves a sense of looking down one's nose at, not a calendar featuring majestic (yes, seriously) creatures. (I probably would feel less in awe were I in a position of having to deal with them, but I digress.)

I concede it's an infinitely risible epiphany, but I find myself regarding it as just that: an epiphany. A moment of heretofore unrealized clarity.

When I reflect on it, the best pieces I've written are undoubtedly the ones that eschew irony altogether and identify something worthy of praise rather than something that is easily put down. That's not to say the latter aren't fun, on occasion, but they're not the best ones. Perhaps I really needed to come to a point where I grasped that sometimes one needs to be ironic about being ironic.

The "useless" in "uselessdoug" comes in part from an Oscar Wilde quote (which can be found at the very bottom of the page), which ultimately (in my interpretation) suggests that art is that which exists for its own sake, not for utilitarian purposes. I have given lip service to applauding "art" and anything someone does just because something inside compels him or her to do it, but it took a well crafted picture of an animal to remind me that one only finds art when one is willing to see it.


I know I overused "irony" in the post above. Sorry.

Three sizes too small

This thought is a bit late, but here goes:

Scrooge and the Grinch are the common metaphors for not having "holiday spirit"; those are the ubiquitous terms used in virtually any context to describe anyone who isn't filled with joy leading up to Xmas.

However, both characters are redeemed in the end (coming around to having the spirit), ultimately making them symbols of the spirit that ostensibly they are against.

Thus, they really aren't good metaphors for lacking goodwill toward men. If in their stories they remained curmudgeonly opposed to the holiday, then they would be good symbols of it, but that's not how the stories end, so they represent something other than not liking Xmas.

We need to find a new term for that.

I'm not saying I have one. I'm just saying we need to find a new one.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best is a four-letter word

I do not see enough movies, watch enough TV, listen to enough new music, or read enough books to offer any year-end lists about what was the "best" of anything that came out this year. However, of all the "best of" categories on which Entertainment Weekly readers voted, there was one (and only one) where I saw all of the five finalists: Funniest Movie.

And although I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to be like the typical EW reader (and I did not vote for any category), I can with the results.


Knocked Up slightly beating out Superbad, and then The Simpsons Movie*, and Juno.

Then, uh, Evan Almighty.

How Evan Almighty made the list at all, however, leaves me flummoxed. I very much enjoyed Steve Carell in Apatow part I (40-Year-Old Virgin**) and in his other movie from later in the year (Dan In Real Life), and of course on The Office, but Evan... I was not McLovin it.

We saw it with my fiancee's young nephews, and they seemed to like it.

Perhaps more adolescents read EW (or at least voted in their polls) than I realized.


(Thank you for reading past the hideous McLovin line.)


* I know. One would expect me to put Simpsons at the top, but while it was funny (and while I'm sure I'll find it funnier each time I watch the DVD), I laughed more at the two above it.

** Yes, I know he produced movies prior to that. It's merely what gets touted as the precursor to Knocked Up and Superbad. As though they were a trilogy.

Big frakkin' deal

Not that it is of any importance, but I noticed that the number of posts here for the period commencing January 1 and ending December 31 for the year numbered 2007 has exceeded that same period for the year numbered 2006.

Of course, some of them were undoubtedly self-serving stuff like this, so those probably shouldn't count.

Every year I get to blather on just a bit more than the last. I'm not sure whether that is progressing or regressing, however.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Not a finger

"Randy lay there like a slug; it was his only defense."
- One of my many favorite voice-over lines from A Christmas Story
(the only movie worth running for 24 hours straight today)

Merry Christmas, or Happy Tuesday

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Happy Winter (as of 10:08 pm Pacific last night) to my northern hemisphere readers.

Naples Island in Long Beach.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lights out

You may recall a couple weeks ago I posted about taking pictures of trees that a week afterward had been chopped down.

Yesterday I passed the Max Factor Building in Hollywood and took this (not entirely impressive) picture of the lighted tree and wreath decorations atop it:

Today I passed the same building, around the same time of day (after dark), and saw this:

I fear that were I to take any more photos of it, all the lights would be out. (Although at least the second photo is, technically, better.)

I have heard that some people fear that photographs steal the subject's soul. Perhaps the same can hold true for pictures of buildings, too.

Again, sometimes it's difficult to believe in coincidence.

Happy holidays. Or something.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Between the lines

As a frequent pedestrian in the automobile-obsessed Mecca that is Southern California I have noticed with some regularity evidence that drivers are not pay attention, at least not all the time. If it's not a matter of failing to paying attention it indicates they're just bad drivers, which is no more comforting.

I am not suggesting that when I'm behind the wheel that I am any better, by the way. That's part of what makes me happier about taking public transportation and then walking: I'm not making myself part of the problem.

When I am a pedestrian amongst the cars it is always the reality that my safety relies on the drivers acknowledging my existence, but it is somewhat disquieting when they demonstrate that they aren't or weren't until the last second.

The most frequent example of this, and the one I find particularly flummoxing, is when I am crossing the street at an intersection where I am in the clearly defined crosswalk, with the "walk" sign, and where the traffic signal for the cars on the perpendicular direction has been red for many seconds. Seems simple enough. However, on many occasions as I'm crossing a car that's approaching from that perpendicular direction pulls up to the edge of the crosswalk and has to practically slam on the brakes to stop without sliding into the crosswalk. Again, the light didn't just turn; for that driver it has been red for plenty of time to alert him/her that stopping will be necessary and allow him/her to cease the forward momentum of the vehicle without causing the brakes to squeal, but no effort was put into smoothly stopping. And had I not been in, you know, the area designated for pedestrians, with, you know, the right-of-way, the car would still need to stop because, um, that's what the red light means, and because barreling out into the cross-traffic of the other cars would not be in the driver's best interests.

The really puzzling aspect is that such behavior, if nothing else, indicates the driver hasn't grasped that it's not good for the brakes to stop abruptly like that, especially when it can be avoided. Apparently these people enjoy spending time at their mechanics' shops.

There are those who aren't locking up the brakes but are still having to stop before they were otherwise going to. These people simply fail to grasp that the line of the crosswalk is the point before which one is supposed to stop, not the point at which one should start braking.

Clearly humans were never intended to operate motor vehicles; we lack the ability to simultaneously focus on all that requires attention while driving.

If any effort were being put into focusing, that is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Got too many notes

In his latest column for Esquire, Chuck Klosterman accepts the task of trying to figure out what music he likes so he can have an accurate reply to people whom he meets at cocktail parties who throw the question at him about what music he likes.

He takes as the thesis that the reason such questions are asked when people make small talk is the perhaps unconscious motivation to learn something about the person. He reveals what he uses for his answer (the opening to Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor"), but what that reveals about him is nebulous, so he then lists the specific bits that he likes best (not songs but parts of songs, including but not limited to individual guitar riffs) in pursuit of his answer (a "grand unified theory"), but ultimately those bits sound nothing like Humble Pie, and thus he concludes that it is inherently flawed to use such questions to learn something about a person because the person himself doesn't know why he likes what he likes.

As an alternative question, Chuck recommends going with "What kind of music do you think you like?" If that doesn't get one punched in the face it is likely to get closer to the tacit goal suggested by the question of what music one likes. He also offers it as the reason he tries to avoid small talk.

While I see exactly where he was going with the piece, and it is fairly classic Klosterman, I do have a theory about the nature of asking what sort of music one likes in order to learn something about that person. It's not so much seeking profound insight into the person's psyche but looking for commonality in that area that implies commonality in other areas of personality.

In short, if you ask me what music I like and I rattle off the names of a few artists and you happen to like the music of at least some of those same artists, you can speculate that this similarity of taste in a specific area makes it more likely we share other similarities in our personalities, and thus you can feel more comfortable about not being judged by me, and you can begin to reveal more of yourself in the conversation. Conversely, if the artists I recite fall into the category of ones you despise, you know it's probably best to politely excuse yourself and find another conversation at the party.

Essentially, it's a litmus test. We feel most comfortable around people with whom we believe we share some modicum of commonality. That is so ridiculously obvious that I feel stupid having to include it, but I do include it just so there's no confusion regarding this thesis of mine. We wish to interact with those who are more likely to understand us—or at least, those who are less likely to be confused or offended by us.

We may not understand why we like (individually) the music that we like (collectively), but we understand that whatever it is that explains it, we presumably share that as well.


If you like Chuck Klosterman's writing, you are probably more likely to enjoy the Dougressions. Not absolutely so, of course, but if we must speculate in demographic terms, that's about as good a yardstick as any.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More adventures in inadvertent irony

In one of the eateries at Universal Studios Hollywood, the following sign is hung on the wall:
I got a chili cheeseburger with this "never frozen" beef anyway. I've had worse.


Almost grown

Back in the spring, we took some friends visiting from out of town to Amoeba Music to do some CD shopping. They didn't have any stores like it back home, so they were up for a trip there.

It's a place where over the past few years since it opened down here I had spent many hours walking up and down the aisles (especially those of the used discs). I never had difficulty finding something to buy when I went. Frankly, it was more the case that I had to limit the number of times I went in, simply to keep from spending too much money.

I hadn't gotten into downloading music that much, despite having had a high-speed connection for years. I'd been making intermittent journeys to stores to purchase CDs since 1987, and there was a certain enjoyment I'd developed from browsing the used bins and finding albums at a price I was willing to pay. It wasn't merely the pragmatic exercise of acquiring something I knew I wanted but discovering what was available that I may or may not have known I wanted.

Hence the reason I'd accumulated close to 1400 discs over two decades. I'd ripped my collection to mp3 and tended to listen more to the songs on the computer than by putting in a CD, but still there was something about having the disc that held a certain appeal.

Anyway, back to the story: When we got to Amoeba, we all dispersed to the various sections of the store, with the plan to reconvene by the registers in two hours. (No, that's not enough time for me to do a proper patrol of the bins, but others do not have my browsing stamina.)

After a while I came across one of the friends, and she had no prospective purchases picked out. Having an idea of her tastes, I couldn't believe she had found nothing that interested her. When asked about it, she mentioned how she had subscribed to emusic, and she was no longer feeling inclined to buy discs when it was possible she could find the tunes available for download.

I was slightly incredulous, and perhaps because she seemed to rebuke the act I held in such regard I tried to assure her it was still okay to buy CDs. Nonetheless, she left without making any purchases. (The rest of us found at least a few items worth spending our money on.)

Later, after talking with her more about emusic, and seeing how happy she was with it, I was somewhat intrigued. I did nothing for a few months, but finally one evening in the summer I saw there was a promotion wherein one could get 25 free downloads, so I (perhaps too impulsively) signed up to give it a try.

I found an album available that I was not able to find at Amoeba either of the previous two trips I'd made, so I used some of my freebies to get that. And browsing through the site I found enough other music I was interested in that I kept the subscription. However, I figured that I'd still buy CDs when the inclination struck; I'd been doing it for two decades, as I said, and that was not a habit to be easily dismissed.

About little over a month ago I was in Target (I am still somewhat flummoxed by finding that is a place that sells albums I would find interesting, but I digress) and saw the new album by The New Pornographers on sale for $9.99 (which is not a bad price for a non-used disc). I already owned their previous three albums on CD, so I started to reach for it on the end-cap display. Then I was struck by the thought that the New Pornographers were a band available on emusic. If it was available, I could wait and download the 11 tracks for roughly 26 cents each (which obviously comes out to be much less than $9.99).

I refrained from buying the CD.

I even had cause to be in another Target store about a week later and saw it again, still on sale, and again I passed on it. Intentionally.

I had turned my back on my old ways.

And after a few months of monthly downloading, I feel myself moving more and more toward the dark side, where I may not buy CDs any more. It's so subtle I hadn't really noticed until this incident.

I will say this: Downloading doesn't result in me having a sore neck from craning over bins for hours. I suppose I've grown to the point where that badge of honor (of sorts) from my younger days is now... well, a pain in the neck.


And just for the record: A couple weeks ago I downloaded the latest New Pornographers album. It took a couple months to become available, but I have found, despite the immediate-gratification aspect of downloading, I can be patient.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pic for its own sake

Sign of the times

A short while ago on E! they ran a scroll along the bottom of the screen, announcing the "breaking news" of Kiefer Sutherland going to jail to begin his sentence for his latest DUI. Details of his arrest (including his blood/alcohol content at the time) through to what duty he has been assigned in prison (laundry) ran for several minutes under the end of The Soup Presents: The Best of the Worst Game Show Moments and over the beginning of The Girls Next Door.

Whether that deserved that level of spotlight is not why I'm mentioning this now. (Whether I should be admitting I was watching E! is questionable.)

While that ran, in the corner next to the E! logo was a panel showing the logo of an advertiser sponsoring the scroll.

That advertiser: Bacardi.

At first glance it seems like this would be the worst thing that could have happened for the rum maker, but the more I think about it, I doubt the typical E! viewer would be dissuaded from consuming alcohol no matter what the news was. It may be the most effective advertising ever.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to see what's in the liquor cabinet...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't tell the Lorax

One evening back in late October I paused by these trees (palm, I believe) next to this streetlight and experimented with shooting straight up along the pole of the light. You can judge the result for yourself:
I had passed this spot many times and thought the illumination of the streetlight on the trees to be interesting (or at least potentially so) for a photographic subject, but on those occasions I'd kept going, procrastinating because I figured I could take the shots later. But then on this October evening, as you can see, I got over the procrastination. (Whether I should have is another story.)


A week later I passed the same location and... well, have a look at the picture below, taken looking up the post of the same streetlight.

Yes, the trees are gone. The photo has not been altered in any way.

I should note that this spot is next to a construction site, but the construction had been going on for months. When I took the first picture I had no idea the trees were scheduled to be cut down. Presumably mine was the last picture ever taken of those trees.

This seems to be a rather obvious example of why it's important to not put off until tomorrow what you can do (or photograph) today, but given that after every week where I didn't take their picture the trees were still there, I cannot help but wonder if they'd still be around if only I'd procrastinated longer.

If the universe was just keeping them around until I got around to acting on my idea of taking this picture, I would have gladly kept not doing it to allow them to survive indefinitely. (It's not like the shot turned out well enough to justify tree-killing.) I'd much rather have trees than pictures of trees.

Sometimes it's tricky not to believe in coincidence. I'm just sayin'.


This and another one like this shot can be seen here (on the useless photo site).