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Archive for July, 2010

Use your words

Despite being a person who loves words and word games, I was never a big fan of Scrabble. The problem was that I cared much more about putting “good” words out there (or ones I just liked for some reason) instead of focusing on getting the most points (which is, ya know, the goal of the game). I’ve always loved word jumbles, crossword puzzles, and more than half of the things found in the word puzzle magazines I get at the airport. But when it came to Scrabble, I preferred not to play because of the combination of my deficiencies and my desire to win at every game I play.

With all of that in mind, it was a bit of a leap for me to download a Scrabble-esque game on my iPod touch. I’d heard two good friends of mine talking about playing against each other and how much fun it was, so I wanted in. I especially liked that it might be hours or even days between moves so that I wouldn’t have to devote a certain amount of time to sit and focus on an entire game. So I took the plunge and started games with each of them.
Sure enough, I lost each of the first several games I played. I had fallen into my old traps, choosing to play a word like “debut” for 10 points over “box” for 13. Much more importantly, I didn’t pay attention to how my words were opening up the coveted Double/Triple Letter or Double/Triple Word spots, which ended many of my games before they ever really got started.

After a little while though, I became hip to all of that and slowly let my preference for “good” words fade into the background. I started playing for points and adopting a keep-away strategy when it came to the multiplier spots. I learned to use established tricky words (qat, adz, xi, etc.) to my advantage, and I started winning some games and making my losses more respectable. I also learned that two people can play against each other on the same device, so my lovely wife and I have taken to passing the iPod back and forth throughout our evenings and occasionally talking a little trash. I feel like I’m reformed and even will to play the real board game again sometime (even though I love the fact that the scores are automatically tallied in this version). Two things I’d like to point out though:

1. I’m not completely “fixed” with my word issues. Earlier this week, I played a word against my friend Lisa that we both agreed should’ve netted me more points. She had “ado” already on the board, and I masterfully (if I say so myself) added letters before and after it to turn it into the far more exciting “matador.” I knew I wasn’t maximizing the Doubles or Triples, and only the M was worth more than 1 or 2 points, but I couldn’t help myself.

2. Playing this game is causing me to overthink even more about words and their composition than I already do. While we were making dinner, I said to my lovely wife, “‘Shrub’ is a good word, especially if you’re stuck with only one vowel.” Later that night, she called our son a “champ” for some reason. “‘Champ’ is a good word too,” I said. “Even better actually.” I paused while my wheels turned. “Hey, you can put four different vowels where that A is in ‘champ’ and they all have very different meanings.” Being a wonderful partner who listens to me and humors me from time to time, she agreed. We spent the next minute or two talking about how different it is to be a champ, a chump, a chimp, or to chomp on something. “Three are nouns,” she said. I nodded, noting her accuracy.  “‘Chump’ would give the most points since the U is worth 2,” I added.   She nodded back.

So there you have it, friends.  I/we have a new little obsession that I never would’ve expected based on past failures.  It’s not as drastic as me taking up ice skating, but a fun and bold move nonetheless.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s my turn in three different games to assert my wordnerdiness.

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Beating the system

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When I was young, I had an idea of how to screw over the government and totally get away with it.  I’ve never put it into practice (nor do I intend to), but I do feel like sharing it now.  Check it out: Let’s say I want to mail Mike Honcho something, but I don’t have any stamps.  Ruh roh.  Fear not – I write his address as the return address and mine as the one where the addressee would normally go.  Then I throw it in the mailbox without postage.  What happens to that piece of mail?  By all accounts, it would get stamped with “Insufficient Funds” and brought directly to his doorstep, right?  (Does everyone know about this already and just never mention it?) Instead of putting my address front and center, I could just put some made up address so it never gets traced back to me.  They’d never try to deliver it to the fake address because there’d be no postage.  Am I missing something here or is this a simple and foolproof way to stick it to the man?  I suppose there might be a limit to the distance one’s trying to mail something via this method.  I mean, chances are someone who lives in Paris isn’t dropping off a piece of mail in an Encino mailbox.  But how would they know that?  Why couldn’t the Parisian be visiting and want to mail something to an American while in the country?  I guess the only question that remains is whether looking cheap is worth saving 40-something cents.  I can imagine college kids sending things to each other this way across the country and saving several dollars over the course of a semester…if college kids ever sent anything by non-electronic mail anymore.

I thought of this because I had another idea in a similar category, though this one is purely for individual gain and not really at the expense of the government.  Here it is: I think I should buy a Town Car with tinted windows.  If I’m driving that, is there any chance a cop would pull me over in the carpool lane (unless I’m speeding)?  I’m not talking about a limo per se, but something clearly used for transporting people without the ability to see said people.  Think of the extra hours of life I’d have each year!  I truly believe I’m onto something here.  I mean, I’m not gonna do that of course…but still.  I’m just sayin’.

Got any “Stick It To ‘Em” schemes of your own?  Comment away, my friends!

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Feeling L.A.ted

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MC Squared’s wife hails from a tiny little mountain town in the northern part of our great state of California.  I like to tell people that she didn’t need to learn how to change lanes while driving until she went to college, but it turns out that’s an exaggeration.  On New Year’s Day of this year, a group of us went out for breakfast after a fun night together.  Mrs. Squared leaned in and said, “We’re in L.A., so if someone looks like someone famous, it’s probably that person, right?”   We all agreed that that was indeed the case, so she nodded in a direction and asked who the red-head at the nearby table was.  “Oh, that’s Charlotte from Lost,” I said.  “That’s it!  Thanks,” she replied, and we went back to our meals. 

This kind of thing happens all the time, and having grown up in the Los Angeles area, I’m as used to it as one can get.  When I saw a cool-looking dad with a “Working Class Hero” shirt in Staples with two boys who looked like Gary Oldman, it turned out that he also had Gary Oldman’s voice and entire identity.  It just happens, so much so that I really can’t remember all of the famous people I’ve seen in the past couple of years, let alone my lifetime.  I’m not bragging (because it’s not like I’ve hung out with any of these people), but it’s one of the interesting aspects of life in L.A.

All that said, I had a two-day period this week that I can only describe as “so L.A.”  A lot of it has to do with my work, so I’m going to be vague when it comes to some of the actual names, but you’ll get the point.  First off, we have a client in town from the Chicago for a commercial shoot, and they were already thrilled with the weather and overall feel of being in Southern California.  My colleague and I took them out to dinner with a couple of other people, one of whom happens to be the son of a famous former TV star in the 80s and 90s.  When I’d first mentioned who his mom was on the phone before the trip out, they oohed and aahed like he was an exotic animal.  So we took them out to a cool and happening place on Sunset, and while we were checking in at the hostess desk, I leaned into the group and said, “In case you’re interested, that’s Dr. Dre sitting right over there.”  “Oh my god, you’re right!” one said.  (Duh.)  I watched as they quickly scanned the rest of the restaurant to see if anyone else of such importance was there while we walked to our table.  Though no one stood out, they weren’t disappointed as they were clearly still riding the Dre high.

During the meal, an L.A.-based woman with whom we occasionally work said that her husband was going to stop by and join us for part of the meal.  When he walked in, I shook his hand and introduced myself.  Meanwhile, the voice inside my head said, “Hey, he’s the guy that won that reality show a few years ago.”   So there I was on the patio of a trendy restaurant with an old tv star’s son, a reality tv personality, and nearby an icon in the music industry.  To complete the scene, the table behind us had a man in his 50s sitting with five or six scantily clad young ladies who were clearly not his relatives.  The Midwesterners’ eyes could not have been wider. 

The next day at the commercial shoot, they were treated to another “Hollywood type” that they’d missed up to that point.  I was sitting with a woman who was hired to say two or three lines in the spot, and though I was writing emails on my Blackberry, I apparently missed the glowing neon sign above my head that said, “Please talk to me about how awesome you and your career are!”  Out of nowhere – seriously, we weren’t talking at all – she said, “I just completed a one-woman show that I hope to take off Broadway.”  “Oh cool,” I said, and I made an exaggerated move back to my phone to nicely show that I was done with the conversation.  “And I just got a call from someone,” she continued.  “She wanted to commend me on my honesty and forthrightness, which is exactly what I wanted to get across.”  I nodded and made a Clinton-esque lip purse to imply that I was proud of her.  That had to end it, right?  “A one-woman show is really hard to pull off,” she told me.  I decided it was time to have a little fun since she wasn’t getting any of my obvious hints.  “How large was the cast?” I asked.  “Just me!” she said.  “I know, I was kidding.”  “Oh.”  I went back to my phone, this time intensely writing an email to myself (about this lady’s honesty and forthrightness).  “That’s the big challenge of a one-woman show,” she continued, “not having other actors to bounce off of.”  “And a really small cast party,” I added.  “That’s so true!” she laughed.   Mercifully, she was called away to start getting her makeup done. 

I told the clients about that interaction and warned them to steer clear of talking about her one-woman show.  It became the running gag of the day, because the woman was…well, the word “nutjob” kept coming up.  In between takes, she ran over to us to tell us how difficult it is to say “Irish wristwatch” five times fast.  (She’s right, of course, and I truthfully have trouble saying that even one time correctly.)  Then she ran back to her spot and one of us inevitably asked, “Is that in her one-woman show?”  Ah, good times.

Anyway, I was just so struck by the L.A.-ness of those two days that I felt compelled to share.  If you live here too, you’re probably nodding.  If you don’t, you’re probably shaking your head.  It’s not for everyone, and I totally get that.  In fact, Death Cab For Cutie has a song called “Why You’d Want to Live Here” that’s as anti-L.A. as you can get.    But hey, Randy Newman still loves us, so it can’t be all that bad.

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Back in the present

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I’m officially old.  That’s ok with me though.  I was just telling a friend that age numbers don’t seem to bother people who are happy with where they are in life, and I have no complaints on that front.  I do, however, lament that my body seems to have moved into a new stage.  Specifically, my back doesn’t feel like complying right now.  I expect this to be a temporary problem, but it’s still disconcerting.  Little things like bending, reaching, or clothing myself have caused me to make what I can only refer to as “dad sounds,” in which a series of “ooh ooh oohs” and elongated groans accompany such movements. 

At first, I only felt this pain in my lower back during very specific (and telling) situations: swaddling a baby and putting a baby down in a crib.  It’s that motion of having weight away from my body with an attempted bend that caused the greatest dad sounds.  After a week or so though, the sounds weren’t limited to those motions.  I’d be on the ground and spend a few seconds trying to figure out how I was supposed to get up from that position.  My hands would search my perimeter for a magic lever or something to get me back upright without any kind of bend, reach, twist, or…movement.  I began to feeling my lower back in all of its glory doing such hardcore actions as standing, sitting, or foolishly walking.  That’s when I called to make an appointment with my doctor, and they gladly got me in the next day.

“So what brings you here today?” asked my friendly and competent doctor.  “Back pain,” I said.  “Right around here…and I know exactly what caused it.”  He cut me off and said that before we got into that, he wanted to know about any history I had of back pain, etc.  Then he looked at me with a half smile and said, “Ok, what did you do to yourself?”  “I have three-month old twins,” I said, knowing that that would probably be enough to explain away the pain.  It was, and he totally remembered his own pain from those same repetitive motions (with just one kid at a time).  We chatted for a bit, and after x-rays showed that everything seemed to be where it’s supposed to be, he said, “I think acupuncture and massage is the best first step for you.  No need to have you spend $1,000 on an MRI when that should do the trick.”  I appreciated that.  He picked up the phone and called a number from memory.  After giving some of my information to that person, he hung up and said, “Great, she can take you.”  “When?” I asked.  “Right now – she’s in the building across the street and will be waiting for you.”

On my short walk across the street, I had a few different thoughts.  One, I was glad that this should be a relatively easy healing process.  Two, I thought it’s great that he had that contact and the familiarity to get me some additional help right then instead of having me remain in pain for a couple more days.  Three, I was pleased that he so willingly accepted Eastern medicine as a logical first step for me.  I don’t know how common that is, but I have a feeling that some doctors categorically reject all pre-Western practices, so I appreciated it.  And four, I realized that I was about to have needles put in me in various places and probably shouldn’t act like a baby about it.

I don’t like needles all that much, but I’ve gotten a lot better recently.  I’ve had blood drawn or flu shots/vaccines enough now that it’s standard procedure, but I still can’t say I’m a fan and still have to minimally psych myself up to be manly about it.  And I know I’m being picky, but do we really need to have the word “puncture” in this process?  Can’t we come up with some euphemism that conveniently ignores that fact that tiny sharp objects will be making holes in my body?  I met the puncturist – er, acupuncturist – and we chatted for a few before I assumed the position (face down and the top of my butt hanging out and awaiting needles) and started the process.  It wasn’t that bad, of course, but before it moved from the unknown column into the known, my imagination had too many options.  Here’s what I didn’t expect: “Now I’m going to use some electric stim on the area.”  “Great,” I thought, “stab me and then electrocute me.  Where’s your accompanying whip and black leather bustier?  Should we agree on a safe word now?”  It was fine though.  When she told me there would be “a little pinch,” that was actually accurate.  When she said the electric stimulation should be “comfortably tolerable,” I expected way worse than the sensation that followed.   Half an hour later and with red marks all over my face from the…face pillow thing, I got up, got some ice packs, and made an appointment to come back the next day.  She warned me that I’d probably be a little sore after that first time, which I was, but I’m hopeful that the combination of some acupuncture, some stretches, and some core-strengthening exercises (once I’m no longer in pain) will help heal me and prevent me from having this problem again.  Oh, and the valium my doc prescribed for the nighttimes isn’t too shabby either.

So yeah, I’m getting old.  But with two hemispheres’ worth of medicine on my side and two adorable reasons for the pain in the first place, I’m totally alright with that.  (Just don’t expect me to get a tattoo of their names on my arm anytime soon.)

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