Sunday, February 26, 2006

We Now Return To Normally Scheduled Brain Activity

Well, thank God the Olympics are almost over. No wonder I didn't get anything done in the 90s -- skating comes on and it's all I can think about. Not good. Considering how much other crap I've had going on while 99% of my mental energy is focused on things like whether that girl had a good free leg position on her layback spin, it's kind of amazing I've continued to function at all.

Anyway, now all that stuff is over (till the World Championships next month!) and I can concentrate on important things like writing in my blog.

I want to wish a very happy birthday to the Bride, who had, like, a totally radical 80s party to celebrate last night. Normally I don't get too into the whole theme thing, but this one, as you can imagine, was right up my alley. I don't even want to tell you how much of my non-skating brain power went to working on my outfit this past week. Reasonable Man got into it as well, and we were quite pleased with ourselves when we were ready to leave:
A few notes:
1) I am not pregnant, but I'm pretty sure only pregnant women dress this way nowadays. I will confess that I totally would have worn this outfit back in the 80s.

2) Yes, those are stirrup pants. What a hideous fashion they were! I think even girls with skinny little hips must have looked dumpy in these things.

3) You can't see my jewelry very well in this picture, so I want point out that I was wearing two different dangly earrings and a big sparkly pin at the collar of my shirt.

4) Reasonable Man says he doesn't remember people wearing Converse All-Stars back in the 80s, but he grew up in the boonies, so whatever.

It was really fun to see what people came up with 80s gear at the party. My mom, as well as the Bride's mom, went for the whole workout/Olivia Newton-John "Physical"/Flashdance thing, while the Bride herself was rocking a Madonna "Like a Virgin" black mesh deal. There was lots of big hair, one really scary mullet wig, and a whole lot of spandex, blue eyeshadow, and sweatshirts with the collars cut out. A tubular time was had by all. And I'm keeping my outfit for the next time I get invited to an 80s party :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2006


I was a lot more impressed with the level of skill on "Skating With Celebrities" before I watched the Olympic pairs competition last weekend.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Great, Now I'm Pissed Off About Ice Skating Again

You may not know this because I'm pretty sure I've never mentioned it in this space before, but if I was ever addicted to anything, it was figure skating from the mid 90s to the early 00s. I got addicted during the 1994 Olympics, like a lot of people did, but not because of whole big Tonya-Nancy beatdown. Yes, there were things about that whole mess that were undeniably delicious, but the reason I personally became such a skate junkie in 1994 was this guy you see here above. His name is Elvis Stojko, he won three World Championships and two Olympic silver medals, and I've had a big whopping crush on him for about 12 years now. I once met him at a reception following an ice show in Vancouver, and he was very nice to me even though I talked his ear off and he kind of looked like he wanted to call security.

Anyway, in the years following the 94 Games, they started showing tons and tons of skating on TV during the winter. And I watched all of it. Unfortunately, most of it was pro skating, which tended to be the same 10 or so skaters "competing" against each other every weekend, skating the same programs you had already seen them skate 50 times or so. After a while, it got really boring. What was never boring was the amateur, or Olympic-eligible competitions. In these competitions, there were actual rules about what you could or couldn't do, and the skaters were young and many weren't established, and there was the actual sense that what was happening was really important. In the men's competition in particular, there seemed to be a real battle raging about choreography and the way the sport was changing. Guys like my friend Elvis were skating to music that wasn't classical, using choreography that wasn't based on ballet. They were skating to rock and to the musical scores from action movies and that kind of thing. The judges weren't always buying it, and there still seemed to be a preference for the more traditional ballet-influenced style skated to classical music, but a few skaters (Elvis, Todd Eldredge, Michael Weiss, Timothy Goebel, and the 2002 Olympic champion, Alexei Yagudin) won competitions by emphasizing the more athletic side of the sport and skating with a more masculine edge.

I haven't watched much skating in the past four years. Not because of the judging scandal in the pairs competition at the Salt Lake Games -- that made me sick, but I wasn't particularly surprised by it -- but because Elvis has retired and no one else has really caught my attention in the same way, and also because my life is a lot busier. Due to having school-age children and an actual social life, I no longer have the time or the inclination to do geeky things like spending hours every day reading and posting on the figure skating Usenet group with all the other psycho skatefans like I used to. This is a good thing. But this year, I enjoyed watching U.S. Nationals, and although I didn't really understand the new scoring system, I looked forward to seeing it and all the new young skaters in action at the Olympics.

Imagine my disappointment when the first two events, pairs and men's, went to Russians I consider mediocre at best, both earning scores that left them so far ahead of the field that everyone else was merely competing for the silver and bronze.

From what I can tell, the new judging system is ten times worse than the last one. It masks the nationalities and potential biases of the judges on the panel, and makes it possible to justify placing one skater ahead of another based on a complicated system of points.

I will admit right up front that I have always disliked Evgeny Plushenko. It's not just because he's homely, has had a series of terrible haircuts, and usually wears ugly costumes. The same arguments could be made about Elvis in his heyday, sad to say. But Plushenko's supposed "artistry" has always looked like a lot of unnattractive arm-waving to me, and I don't think a furrowed brow and lots of posing right in front of the judges adds up to intensity or passion. I've never understood how he became the next great thing in men's figure skating. I went to the 2001 World Championships, where he won his first world title, and hoped his appeal would be more evident in person. It wasn't. Nevertheless, having not seen him skate for a couple of years, I sat down to watch his winning freeskate from this past Thursday night trying to keep an open mind. He's older and I hoped his skating would have matured. He even seemed to be wearing better costumes than I've seen him wear before.

He proceeded to skate the most poorly choreographed figure skating program I've ever seen. What commentators Dick Button and Sandra Bezic said, that it wasn't really a program and that he jumped, waved his arms around, and then jumped some more, were right on. His spins were sub-par to decent, his footwork was non-existant, and nothing he did seemed to have anything to do with the music. Yeah, he jumped a lot, and maybe he landed more jumps than anyone else, but so what? Almost everyone else actually had choreography. Imagine that.

Then he walked off the ice and earned scores that put him so far ahead that none of his competitors could touch him. I will never understand this. The skater who followed him -- the Swiss guy in the odd zebra/tiger costume with the blue sleeves -- skated a great program with weirdly awesome choreography and also did the same quad-triple-double jump combination Plushenko had done, only better. He didn't land as many jumps as Plushenko did, but the rest of his program should have more than made up for that. The second- and third- ranked American skaters both laid down terrific, clean programs. Every skater in the competition should have had a shot at beating Plushenko, based on choreography alone. But apparently, this year it was all about jumps, and so Plushenko was the shoo-in.

The thing that really gets me about this situation is that, back in the 90s, Elvis was the jump guy. He was the first man to land a quad-double combination and a quad-triple combination. Every time he competed, everyone wondered if he was going to do that quad. But he was criticized for his choreography, his spins, his lack of footwork, and even the way he landed all the amazing jumps he landed (yeah, I'm bitter). He worked on those things, and put together complete programs. You didn't have to love the guy, but at least you could see that, you know, he was doing all the stuff that were supposed to make up a program. The judging in the recent Olympic men's competition would indicate to me that none of this stuff counts anymore as long as you jump a lot and are, for whatever reason, the favorite coming into the competition. Given the fact that Russian men have now won the last 5 Olympic golds, I have to think being the top-ranked Russian guy is not exactly an impediment either.

To me, the question here isn't whether Plushenko has the whole package as a skater. He might, but he didn't put it out there on the ice on Thursday night. It could be argued that he's figured out what scores big under the new system and planned his program accordingly. My question is this: is a scoring system that rewards the performance Plushenko gave on Thursday night good for the sport of figure skating? If we're going to reward the big jumps above everything else, isn't it time to dispense with the rest of it and just hold a jumping competition?

I guess I really thought that the way the sport seemed to be changing 10 years ago was going to make a difference long-term. Now I'm just sad that the changes that have been effected seem to be moving things in a direction that will only serve to hurt figure skating in the eyes of the public, causing even more people out there to watch a competition, scratch their heads and say "how is this a sport?"

I'll watch the rest of the skating this Olympics, but I'll be doing so to enjoy the performances, not to see who ends up on the medal podium.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's All Dr. Phil's Fault

Occasionally, if I see a commercial for an upcoming episode of Dr. Phil, I'll tape, and this past week, I taped one focusing on "Extreme Packrats." I had taped it upstairs in my bedroom, so when I started watching it, I was sitting on the bed not doing much. That changed pretty quickly.

I'm afraid of clutter. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a phobia, but it definitely can make me anxious. I wouldn't say my house is ever immaculate, because I don't have any anxiety about dirt and grime, but I do a lot of picking up and putting away. And other than the times when we have people coming over, any tidying and/or organizing I do is fueled by compulsion. I don't separate things into piles, throw things out, loads bags of things to give away and the like because I really want to -- I do it because I have to. Fortunately this compulsion to organize, to tidy, and to purge my home of items we don't want always has positive results, so I'm not unhappywhen it happens.

I have to have a lot of compulsion going on to tackle some of the bigger projects. For instance, our bedroom closet has needed cleaning out for probably 2 years. I'd done the floor a couple of times, but I just couldn't seem to make myself take everything off the shelves -- don't ask me why. I'm not going to try to claim any of this makes sense. It just hadn't gotten done.

Well, I watched that episode of Dr. Phil for less than ten minutes before I threw open the closet door and started pulling stuff out and putting it on the bed. Before long, the closet shelf was empty and the bed was full. I was ruthless as I decimated my completely out-of-control purse collection, tossing a good five of them into the donation pile, and I also finally went through the things hanging in at the end of the clothes bar that were left over from when I used to work in an office over 11 years ago, were way over-sized even then, and were never going to come back into fashion no matter how much I want them too.

(I will say that today I am mournng the loss of my bright green over-sized blazer with the shoulder pads, which would have been a brilliant part to the outfit I'm planning for the Bride's 80s-themed birthday party at the end of this month. Then again, I can always go down to the SPCA Thrift Shop this coming week and see if I can buy it back. It's hard to imagine they will want more than five bucks for it. Otherwise, everything that went in that pile was good riddance. I love the SPCA Thrift Shop. They'll take anything, and when I'm driving away I always have the urge to punch the accelerator and yell "Ha ha! Suckers!" out the window.)

Eventually I came to the pile of manilla envelopes growing on the floor on Reasonable Man's side of the closet. I have a very simple acounting system, in which all the bills, receipts and check duplicates we acquire are put into a manilla envelope bearing the month and year. These pile up. A few years ago, I decided we could probably part with everything corresponding to any year that started with 19, and set out to burn roughly 6 years worth of paper. Since it was spring, I would throw papers into the fireplace and then close the doors -- at one point, a great burning mass of them fell against the glass and one of the doors exploded across the room. I fortunately was a ways away and not in the line of the trajectory to be hit at the time, so I didn't get hurt. The incident did, however, cause to me feel this was probably not the ideal way to dispose of my documents in the future.

I do realize that a device called a paper shredder has been invented to deal with this sort of issue -- I just never thought I really needed one. My friend Sue has never been able to believe that I don't own a shredder -- she can't live without hers, and merrily shreds practically every scrap of paper that has the misfortune to come to her house. I could always see how it could be handy to have one, but I was never moved to actually buy one until this past week.

It so happened that on Thursday, the day I gutted my closet, Mermaid had what I will indelicately refer to as a shitload of homework. Lest you think I exaggerate, I think by the time she was finished, she'd had literally spent nearly 4 hours working on it. It was a bit ridiculous. Anyway, in addition to the two years worth of receipts, etc. I finally decided it was time to get rid of, I also found a shoebox full of check registers both empty and full and several books of unused checks with our old San Luis Obispo address on them. So while I sat and helped Mermaid deal with her pile of homework, I took on the mindless task of shredding the unused checks by hand. This, in a word, sucks. My thumbs quickly cramped up and it just generally wasn't pleasant. And it took a ridulously long time, considering that it was maybe 5 or 6 books of checks.

The pile of manila envelopes full of paper bits that needed shredding filled my laundry basket. In a box out in the garage, they weren't bothering me, but in a pile in my laundry basket, they had become clutter and needed to be dealt with immediately. My thumbs were still sore from ripping up checks the day before, so I decided the time was ripe, and I hit Office Max yesterday to buy a shredder. It was more expensive than I had expected, but it works very well. And so I got to work a-shreddin' all those paper bits.

(By the way, I do realize it's foolhardy to store financial information of any kind in my garage, which is left unlocked all the time. The stuff I have left over is safely stored in the house now, and no, I'm not going to say where in my blog.)

But here's the thing. Efficient as my shredder is, it still takes a long time to shred two years worth of receipts, bills and check duplicates. And you can't do a whole lot while you're doing it. You can't really read anything -- you need to keep your eyes on what you're doing. You can't really watch TV -- the shredder is too noisy to be able to hear it, and you can't watch it either. And so I have settled on the option of listening to podcasts, which are somewhat more engaging than just listening to music.

And this is why I am now listening to all the podcasts done so far this season by Tim Gunn, the guy on Project Runway who comes in and bosses the designers around and tells them that their designs have him "concerned" and basically makes them feel worse when they're probably already feeling rushed and stressed out. How awesome is that? I love the internet. And I'm even beginning to love this shredder for giving me an excuse to sit here and listen to this silly stuff.