Goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire

The Wall of Flame at Salvador Molly's

Those who know me know of my abiding love for the Utah Jazz. I grew up in Eastern Idaho and they were the only professional sports team in a 500 mile radius, and my boyhood was during the heyday of Stockton and Malone. While I rarely visit Salt Lake City, I make it a point to see the Jazz play whenever and wherever I can. When I moved here I could see them play the Sonics twice a year, but since the Sonics have been cruelly ripped from the bosom of Mother Seattle, I’ve had to make the pilgrimage to Portland periodically.

The plan for this week was to drive down to Portland with several friends, and to meet some friends of mine who live in Oregon for dinner and the game. However, one by one, everyone cancelled. One friend had to return home for a family emergency, another’s wife threw out her back. Eventually it was down to just myself and my stalwart roommate, Chris. We should have seen these cancellations as omens that the trip was ill-starred. Yet we decided to press on!

The first order of business as we drove to Portland was to find an interesting place to eat. As much as I love the Jazz, I love pig-out spots and eating challenges even more. Hence, when I head to a new city I always check the website of the Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” for restaurant recommendations. This time the MVF site steered us to a place called Salvador Molly’s. The restaurant was excellent – great decor, fine service, intriguing culinary options. But most importantly, they had a big wall covered with photos of people who had completed the “Great Balls of Fire Challenge”. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s getting my picture on the wall of a restaurant.

Photo of fritters from the Wandering Chopsticks blog.

There are generally three types of eating challenges: eat something huge, eat something quickly, or eat something spicy. While I’ve done plenty of the first two, I have never attempted a “spicy challenge”, so this was new to me. But I figured, how bad could it be? All I had to do was eat five habanero cheese fritter balls and the salsa that came with them. I’ve eaten extremely spicy foods before, it hurts for a while but then it goes away. I knew that I could handle this.

And I was right! I quickly downed the fritters, my mouth and throat burned something fierce, but I endured and it subsided. We then ate a delicious meal, I got my picture on the wall, and I left Salvador Molly’s triumphant and sated. As we headed to the Rose Garden for the game, I commented on how I should take spicy food challenges more often.

Then, as we took our seats and the game started, I got my comeuppance.

It started like regular indigestion but quickly became an explosion of fiery acid in the depths of my stomach. It’s tough to describe this pain without sounding like a wuss, but you’ll have to trust me that I’m not a particularly pain-sensitive person. This was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, worse than any migraine headache or post-dental-surgery throbbing. I felt like John Hurt in Alien.

After several minutes of clutching my stomach and groaning, I dragged myself to the arena’s first aid station, where two paramedics asked me lots of questions, tested my blood pressure, and pricked my finger to test my blood sugar. In their words I looked “pale, sweating, and wobbly”. Despite my certainty that this was some kind of ulcer bomb detonating in my vitals, they diagnosed “indigestion caused by spicy foods” and told me there wasn’t anything they could do. At that point I commenced staggering around the Rose Garden looking for a place to purchase antacids.

I should mention that I was wearing my Deron Williams jersey and was decked out in Jazz blue, one of only a handful of Jazz fans in a crowd of 20,000 screaming, red-clad Blazers fanatics. At halftime they all spilled out into the halls and my jersey was like a magnet for every drunken Blazer fan to come and heckle me about how my team was losing. Normally, I enjoy this – mixing it up with the home crowd is the best part of coming to the game! But in my current excruciating state, I was in no condition to react well to drunks getting in my face. Luckily, I looked like the Black Death incarnate, so not many got too close. Whenever anyone did come up to me to make some comment, I would grab them by the shirt and scream at them, “DO YOU HAVE TUMS? PEPTO BISMOL?”. This proved to be a good way to deal with hecklers but did not result in obtaining any Pepto Bismol.

I managed to tough it out. I got back to my seat eventually and we stayed until the end of the game, and although the game went poorly for the Jazzmen, I felt a kind of triumph in staying for the final buzzer and never removing my jersey. We decamped the stadium, and soon antacids were acquired and we were heading back to Seattle. My stomach slowly returned to normalcy.

There is a terrifying coda to this tale however, which has caused me to rethink everything I know about human digestion and the way our bodies process food:

The fritters burned on the way out.

The moral of this story is that there is always a price to be paid when placing fiery balls in your mouth. If you don’t pay the price now, you’re sure to pay it later!

My favorite films of 2010

OK Mila Kunis, I put your movie at #1. Will you be my girlfriend now?

I watched a scary number of movies this year so (unlike with my music list) I feel like I have a pretty deep pool to draw from here. The challenge with lists like these is striking the balance between entertainment and artistic merit. For instance, I felt like “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” was a flawed film and I could point at several things wrong with it. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve had more fun in a theater this year. By contrast a film like “The Kids are All Right” is less entertaining to me but ultimately seems more deserving of respect. Good thing I don’t do this for a living, so I don’t actually have to come up with a real answer to that.

On to the list!

  1. Black Swan. I would not have wagered that my favorite film of 2010 would be about ballerinas. That’s the beauty of cinema – its endless capacity to surprise you. Black Swan is over-the-top, ridiculous, suspenseful, bold, entrancing, full of clichés, and yet completely unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. I had to sit in the theater for several minutes after it ended in order to shake off the spell it put me under. Hats off to director Darren Aronofsky for the way he uses the visual grammar of horror movies to tell a story about the price that must be paid to produce truly great art.
  2. Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s tough to describe this hilarious documentary by street artist Banksy without spoiling it. It’s nominally about graffiti art, but takes some unexpected turns and makes viewers question what they are actually seeing.  This would make a terrific double feature with another wonderful documentary about art, 2007’s My Kid Could Paint That. Both movies question the commercialism of art and ask – how much of a work’s value derives from the art itself, and how much from the marketing around it?
  3. Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Maybe it’s only fun for GenY video gamers and indie rock nerds, but I fall in that category and there was no film more fun to see in a crowded theater than Scott Pilgrim. Unfortunately it bombed at the box office, but I have a feeling it will live on as a cult film as long as there are people who get the 8 bit references. Frenetic energy, great jokes, and a surprisingly tolerable Michael Cera. It’s the kind of film you want to see again as soon as it’s over.
  4. Winter’s Bone. On the opposite side of the fun spectrum, here’s a miserablist Ozarks drama about a young girl trying to find her meth-cooking father in order to save her young siblings from being homeless. Jennifer Lawrence delivers the performance of the year (better than Natalie Portman in Black Swan). This is the kind of film I wish conservatives would watch so they can see how hard it is to be poor in America.
  5. Inception. I think everyone on the planet has seen this, so let’s move on, shall we?
  6. The Social Network. It’s strange how minor factual errors in this film bothered me a lot, even though it’s a fictional account, while I’m not bothered that a documentary like Exit Through The Gift Shop might be a giant hoax. I guess I just feel that this movie may end up being the definitive record of one of the most interesting stories of our time, and Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher just didn’t give Mark Zuckerberg a fair shake. That said, how about that wonderful dialogue? I could listen to Jesse Eisenberg deliver the “you’re getting the minimal amount of my attention” speech a hundred times.
  7. The Kids Are All Right. I’m a supporter of gay marriage but if I really thought that two lesbians might name their son “Laser”, I might jump to the other side.
  8. The King’s Speech. Middlebrow and predictable, yet it brought a tear to my eye. Definitely recommended but the best scenes are in the trailer. Also, does it mean I’m juvenile if my favorite part of the movie was when Colin Firth yells “tits”?
  9. True Grit. I’ll admit a slight disappointment here as my love for the Coen brothers knows no bounds. Instead of making a transcendent Western they merely made a great Western. Oh well!

I’m leaving the tenth spot open because I have some films left to see and none of the Honorable Mentions really feels like a top ten film to me.

Honorable Mentions: A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes, Unstoppable, The Town, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, Mother, The Ghost Writer, RED, Fair Game, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter 7.0, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Kick-Ass, Green Zone, 127 Hours

Still in the Netflix Queue: Blue Valentine, Toy Story 3, Dogtooth, Enter the Void, Carlos, Catfish, I Love You Philip Morris, The Fighter, Four Lions, Waiting for Superman

Disappointing: Machete, Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Hot Tub Time Machine

Worst Movies I Saw: Legion, Daybreakers, The Bounty Hunter, Clash of the Titans, Jonah Hex

My favorite albums of 2010

Janelle Monae believes she is some kind of robot.

I have even less credibility as an amateur music critic than I do as an amateur TV/movie critic, so I won’t pretend like I even heard a fraction of all the music that came out in 2010.  Here’s my favorites anyway!

  1. The Walkmen, Lisbon
  2. The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  3. Janelle Monae, Archandroid
  4. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening
  5. The Roots, How I Got Over
  6. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms
  7. Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz
  8. Broken Bells, Broken Bells
  9. The New Pornographers, Together
  10. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach

Honorable Mentions: Kanye West, Frightened Rabbit, Josh Ritter, Nicki Minaj (more for her scorching guest verses than her album), MGMT, Vampire Weekend.

Best Concert I Attended: Josh Ritter at the Showbox

Best Comedy Albums:

  • Anthony Jeselnik, Shakespeare
  • Hannibal Buress, My Name is Hannibal
  • Aziz Ansari, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening

    My favorite TV shows of 2010

    Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James from TERRIERS

    I’m definitely a television geek so it’s strange that I’ve been making best movies/music lists all these years but have never done a best TV list. Probably because in the days before I had DVR, I caught up with everything on DVD and never watched shows week to week. Well, in 2010, I watched a lot of shows as they aired. I probably don’t watch more TV than your average American but I’m efficient about it – I try lots of shows and only stick around with the ones that are very good. We’re in a golden age of American television – if all you can find to watch are crappy reality shows and Law and Order spinoffs, you’re not looking hard enough!

    Here are my personal favorites. Usual disclaimer – I’m an amateur critic only and don’t watch everything, so if your favorite 2010 show isn’t listed I probably just haven’t seen it. Or maybe I think it’s shit. Find out by posting your favorites in the comments!

    1. Mad Men. The fourth season of everyone’s favorite 60’s nostalgia series was the best one yet. The show’s amazingly talented writing staff made a smart decision to keep most of the action in the office of SCDP. Jon Hamm’s work as Don Draper was incredible as always (hopefully Emmy voters watch the best episode of the year, “The Suitcase”, where Don and Peggy work all night and Don copes with a personal loss). Mad Men is also one of the funniest shows on television – no other show can swing between tragedy and comedy as deftly. RIP Mrs Blankenship!
    2. Terriers. Never heard of it? Not surprising, seeing as how this scruffy private-eye show never got more than 800,000 viewers on the FX channel before being cancelled. I choose to focus on the positive and be thankful that we got 13 incredible episodes full of humor, pathos, and great dialogue. We also got a pitch-perfect series finale, which is more than most brilliant-but-cancelled shows get. In the immortal words of Hank Dolworth, “this may be more complicated than I thought”.
    3. Justified. FX also premiered this little gem of a show about a trigger-happy US marshal returning home to rural Kentucky. Luckily for us, it avoided Terriers’ fate and will be airing a second season in January 2011. Do yourself a favor and watch, and don’t forget that if Raylen Givens has to pull his weapon, he shoots to kill.
    4. Boardwalk Empire. HBO spent a fortune producing this Prohibition crime drama and it shows. Incredible production values and sterling performances from Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt elevate the uneven plotting. I ain’t making no bookshelves.
    5. Rubicon. Also from the brilliant-but-cancelled file is this AMC conspiracy thriller. It had a slow start and a rather stupid finale, but in between were some excellent episodes and unforgettable characters. The show was at it’s best when getting away from the silly conspiracy storyline and focusing on the lives of the people who analyze intelligence for a living, and the immense human cost of the War on Terror. Also, Truxton Spangler taught us something about ties.
    6. Community. The best new sitcom of 2009 was the best overall sitcom of 2010. Highlights include the paintball episode from last spring and this fall’s brilliant bottle episode where the gang tries to figure out who stole Annie’s pen. Don’t get chloroformed!
    7. Venture Bros. Here’s a show that probably isn’t on many top 10 lists, but I have fierce love for the Venture family and the rich world they inhabit. We had to wait many many months for the show’s creators to finally finish season 4 but it was worth it to hear Brock and Col. Gathers discuss the world’s saddest tits.
    8. Fringe. This mad-science show was good-but-not-great in 2009, but towards the end of season 2 made the leap to greatness as the show ditched most of the Freak-of-the-Weeks and revved up the alternate universe storyline. Let’s make some labels and smoke some Brown Betty.
    9. Archer. Yet another stellar new show from FX (what a year for basic cable!). At first this animated spy comedy seemed completely unnecessary. Did the world really need another James Bond spoof? After watching this show, the answer is clearly “yes!”. Also, I learned about online pregnancy tests.
    10. The Pacific. HBO’s newest WWII miniseries was lethargic in it’s early installments and probably had a few too many characters. Still, the unrelentingly grim portrayal of soldiers being pushed to the limit and beyond had me riveted. War is mean, and you better get mean too boo.

    Honorable Mentions: Daily Show, Sons of Anarchy, Lost, Chuck, Childrens Hospital, Treme, 30 Rock, and of course Jeopardy!

    Great Shows from 2010 I Still Need to Catch Up With: Breaking Bad, Party Down, Parks and Recreation, The Good Wife, Louie, Friday Night Lights.

    Guilty Pleasures: Hellcats, True Blood.

    An Open Letter to the other Tim Crockett

    'Why should I have to change? He's the one who sucks.' - Michael Bolton, Office Space.
    Dear “Other Tim Crockett”,

    A couple weeks ago I got a comment on one of my blog posts from a “Joey”:

    I thought you were the movie director, Tim Crockett, but you’re not. Your bio has no info and there are no pictures of you on your site. Those things would be helpful to visitors. Thanks. Joey

    I thought this was a reasonable request. There are definitely other Tim Crockett’s in the world – I should probably be clear which one I am. So I added a Bio to my webpage (under the About tab) that gives a brief description and a picture of me. I thought this would have cleared up any confusion – there may be more than one Tim Crockett in the world but there’s only one in Seattle and only one with my dashing good looks (ha!).

    Apparently it wasn’t sufficient, however, because over the last couple weeks I’ve gotten several more comments including these awesome quotes:

    You’re obviously not Tim Crockett the movie director. Your taste in movies is blah. Only 3 out of your top 10 are worth watching and they’re on every other list of good movies. You should let your readers know that you are Tim Crockett the computer consultant and not the Director, Tim Crockett, that everyone is coming to your site to read about. – “Chris Jenkins”
    I was looking for my friend, Tim Crockett, but you’re not him. You should be more specific on your front page bio so people don’t waste their time reading rants from someone they don’t know. – “David Martin”
    This is obviously not Tim Crockett the movie director. I interviewed him at his home in Malibu two months ago. Needless to say, your apartment building would probably fit in the downstairs portion of his beachfront estate. – “Kevin S”

    I know these comments were left by you, OTC. There’s a repetition of phrases – “obviously not Tim Crockett the movie director” reoccurs multiple times, as does the phrase “not trying to be rude”. All of these comments are from the same IP address block which tells me that they were all made from the same general geographic location. And they all use proper spelling and grammar – the chance of that many random internet comments all having good spelling/grammar is basically zero. These comments were all written by the same person, and I think that person is you, OTC.

    I read your bio on IMDB.com. I hope it was written by some PR person, because it makes you sound like an enormous douchebag. There’s a fine line between promoting your accomplishments and sounding like a self-aggrandizing egomaniac – and that bio crosses it.

    I’m under no obligation to say that I’m not you. You’re not famous. If I said I wasn’t you, then I would also have to say that I’m not Tim Crockett the security specialist, who is definitely a bigger badass than you or me. There’s at least 12 Tim Crockett’s on LinkedIn. Where does it end?

    But look OTC – I don’t know if you’re a douchebag in person – I’ve never met you. I hope you’re a great guy who just comes across badly in your bio. I hope your movie is great and brings you lots of success. If you have a problem with my blog, we can discuss it man-to-man. Let’s dispense with leaving bitchy blog comments under fake names and talk like adults.

    Clearly you don’t like the fact that I have this blog with your name on it and it’s not doing anything to promote your movie. Maybe we can do something about that! I’m open to ideas about how we can help each other. Here are two of them:

    • Option 1: For the low price of $95,000 – I will sell you the domain names timcrockett.net; timcrockett.com, and timcrockett.org, and move my blog and my personal email to greener pastures. This may be more than the domains are actually worth – but it has a lot of sentimental value for me. The cost should be nothing to the man who was “America’s youngest CEO” (according to your bio).
    • Option 2: I will keep the blog; but I will make a post talking about “Intent” and what a great movie it is, and talking you up as America’s next great filmmaker. I will ensure that this blog post is linked to on the front page of the site for one year. On my bio page I will clearly state that I am not Tim Crockett the fantastic entrepreneur and filmmaker, and link directly to your IMDB page or the website of your choice.

      In exchange – you will add this copy to your IMDB bio and any other published web biographies. “I am not the same Tim Crockett as Tim Crockett the famous writer and web humorist. You can check out that Tim Crockett’s hilarious prose on http://www.timcrockett.net”.

    So do we have a deal? I’m totally open to counter-offers.

    Yours Truly,
    The Seattle Tim Crockett

    P.S. Any other Tim Crockett’s reading this? Let’s get to know each other! Send me an email.

    Hot Yoga Nights

    My company recently hired a charming gentleman named Raj Patra. Raj and I got to know each other and I found out that in his spare time he teaches Hot Yoga (or “Bikram Yoga” after founder Bikram Choudhury). I had never heard of this, but I was shocked to find out that some people actually practice yoga in rooms heated to 105 degrees and 40-50% humidity. This has several supposed health benefits beyond the obvious effect of making you sweat buckets of water in every direction. Then they kick it up a notch with “Power Yoga” which has more movement than the traditional pose-holding variety.

    I have never done any kind of yoga before, let alone aerobic yoga in a sauna-like room, but as you all know I’m game for trying pretty much anything. So I brought my roommate Chris and we signed up for Raj’s “Hot Power Yoga” class at Hot Yoga of Kirkland.

    The place was extremely crowded: apparently hot yoga is the Big New Thing to hit the exercise world. Most of the people there were female, which was great, except that I can’t imagine trying to hit on any of them while drenched in three gallons of my own sweat. As the class started I quickly realized too that I was by far the most out of shape person in the room. I was unable to hold even simple yoga poses and mostly just flailed my arms and legs around while trying not to die of heat stroke.

    Anyway, I wanted to show you all some of the poses that I was able to accomplish so I made this short slideshow… Continue reading Hot Yoga Nights

    Recycled: a letter to my landlords

    my worst nightmare
    my worst nightmare
    I’m having a bit of leasing-company trouble at the moment which made me think of a similar issue I ran into a few years back and an email I sent back in 2007. It’s a bit long, but I think it got the point across.
    ———————————————————————————–

    To the management of *** Apartments…

    Hi there! My name is Tim Crockett, I’ve lived in your building since January of 2005. I think I’ve been a pretty good tenant, I’m usually pretty quiet and I always pay my rent on time. Except this month. I was very sick last week with a nasty flu bug and completely forgot to drop off my rent check. Today I was back at work and realized my mistake, and resolved to drop off a check as soon as I got home. When I did get home I found an envelope on my door.

    It contained a very scary legal notice, which informed me that if I didn’t pay up in three days all manner of evil stuff would happen to me. It used lots of capital letters and was quite intimidating. “If you fail to pay … within THREE DAYS … OF THIS NOTICE, THE landlord will institute legal proceedings against you…” This was frightening. I had visions of my credit being ruined, having to go to prison, having some goons show up at my door and break my kneecaps with a lead pipe. Also – why was “THE” capitalized but not “landlord”?

    Continue reading Recycled: a letter to my landlords

    Best Films of 2009, a work in progress

    Coraline
    Coraline

    I love movies and I love making lists. The problem with making a “best of the year” list is that, unlike real film critics, we normal people have to catch up with most movies on DVD several months later. I feel like I can’t make an actual Top 10 list until I’ve seen all the movies from 2009 that I want to see, but it feels dumb to put out a list in June of the following year. So I’m going to put out my list now and call it a rough draft. Maybe I’ll give it an update in a few months when I’ve had a chance to catch up with films like A Serious Man, A Single Man, An Education, Moon, Extract, In the Loop, Passing Strange, Precious, Big Fan, The White Ribbon, 35 Shots of Rum, Where the Wild Things Are, and of course Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

    Top 10 (for now)  

    1. Up in the Air
    2. Coraline
    3. The Hurt Locker
    4. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
    5. Fantastic Mr Fox
    6. District 9
    7. The Informant!
    8. Inglourious Basterds
    9. Duplicity
    10. Avatar

    Honorable Mention: Adventureland, Up, Star Trek, Watchmen, Crank 2, Drag Me to Hell, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Girlfriend Experience, Away We Go, World’s Greatest Dad, Observe and Report, The Hangover

    Worst movies that I sat through this year: X-Men Wolverine, The Ugly Truth, GI Joe, Taken.

    Biggest disappointment: Sherlock Holmes

    My favorite music of 2009

    Best album cover of the year
    Best album cover of the year

    I don’t listen to enough new music to be able to declare the “ten best” or anything like that, but I love making year-end lists anyway. Here are my favorite albums of the year, in no particular order:

    • The Felice Brothers – Yonder is the Clock
    • Neko Case  – Middle Cyclone 
    • The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – It’s Blitz
    • Regina Spektor – Far
    • Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
    • The Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
    • Florence and the Machine – Lungs
    • Tegan and Sara – Sainthood
    • Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

    No rap albums really spoke to me this year, although Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt 2 is still on my “to listen” list.

    Here’s my favorite “orphaned singles” – songs I loved on albums I didn’t love:

    • The Decemberists, “The Rake’s Song” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid”
    • Animal Collective, “In the Flowers”
    • Steve Earle, “Lungs”
    • Muse, “Uprising”
    • That one song on the Apple commercial where all the people are dancing in front of the iPod video cameras in different colors.

    And finally, my favorite comedy albums of the year:

    • Maria Bamford – Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome  (I can’t recommend this enough)
    • Patton Oswalt – My Weakness is Strong
    • Eugene Mirman – God is a Twelve Year Old Boy