Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The PS2

Currently Reading: Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Here's a sure sign my wife has been playing Gran Turismo a little too much (it's a racing game). Last week we added yet another little toy to our PS2 which is growing larger all the time. We've only had it a few weeks and we already have 12 games, 2 guitar controllers, a taiko drum controller and now a steering wheel. Oh yes, it's true, my wife picked up the steering wheel last week and we've both really been enjoying the racing game. Personally, I drive better when I'm using the joystick because that's how I learned to play the game in the first place. Plus, I tend to over-correct when I'm using the steering wheel so the car keeps going back and forth and fishtailing and spinning out when I mess up the turns.

Anyway, as I was saying, sure sign CC's been playing the game too much. She was looking at used cars the other day over on the Car Max site, just browsing, seeing what's out there, that sort of thing. She's got 5 cars pulled up, looking at the specs and she's showing them to me and she points out that this one model in particular has more horsepower than the others. My first thought was "uh, we're not looking for a street racer here." :-)

We're certainly enjoying the PS2 though. Yeah, it's not the latest and greatest video game machine on the market today but you know, it's affordable, it's reliable, and there are a LOT of games out there for it, both new and used. Yes, I'm fully aware that just by saying such a thing I sound REALLY old right now. It's supposed to be about the graphics or the sound or whatever. And here I am grading it like it's a used car. For CC and I it really only comes down to one thing: entertainment value. We're having fun with it and that's all that matters.

So, what kind of games have we been playing besides the above mentioned racer? Well, we've been sort of bouncing around from game to game, at least I have anyway. CC, until recently, was hooked on a game called Katamari Damacy. It's most definitely an original game, that's for sure. You play a prince of the cosmos and your job is to help rebuild the stars that the king sort of wiped out. You do this by gathering stuff from Earth. But you don't just run around gathering stuff. Oh no, you have a ball and you roll that ball around and it's sticky so it picks things up. The more things you pick up, the bigger the ball gets. The bigger the ball gets, the bigger the things you can pick up.

When you first start out you're rolling the ball around picking up little things like cherries and thumbtacks and maybe sticks of gum. As the game progresses, you move outside gathering up balls and small animals, even dogs and cats. Then later you're grabbing people, cows and bears, then cars and boats, then trees and buildings, then supertankers and small islands and clouds and giant squid and, well you get the idea. In between the normal missions which entail getting the ball to a certain size within a certain amount of time, you also do a few special missions like trying to gather as many crabs as possible to build the constellation Cancer, or maybe the largest bear you can find for Ursa Major.

What else do we have? Let's see here, we've got Guitar Hero of course. That's what prompted us to get the PS2 in the first place. We've got a couple of adventure games, one based on Full Metal Alchemist and the otehr about a spirit wolf. We've also got a couple of shooter's, Ghost in the Shell and Destroy All Humans.

About the only thing the games in our collection have in common is that we seem to be aiming at the odder end of the batch. Yes, we do have the one racing game and we've also got one of the Tekken games (which CC beats my butt badly at) but otherwise we tend to go more for games with originality or based on something we already liked.

Don't worry, I'm not going to start doing video game reviews. I don't do book reviews either and rarely do movie reviews so this won't ever become a video game guide. It's just what CC and I have been doing this past week :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More Tales from the Grooming Salon

Currently Reading: You Suck by Christopher Moore

Quite a few things to go over this week.

Friday I had "one of those days." Yeah, we all have them once in a while right? At one point Friday was going so bad it could have filled in for a Monday. Then again, since I start my work week on Friday, I suppose it WAS filling in for a Monday.

The theme of Friday was smelly dogs. Everything that came through the salon and landed on my table smelled and I mean BAD. The worst one was a yorkie who tangled with a skunk. This is something I've encountered before but never with a dog so small. Usually it's the bigger dogs that go poking around after the skunk and they tend to smell bad starting at the nose and then it fades out as you get to the tail. But with the yorkie, I think it's fair to say he had a pretty even covering of skunk smell. Very consistent from heat to tail.

Coming in second from Friday would be the Bouvier. This dog was in for a full shave which usually means it hasn't been bathed in quite a while and it's all nasty and matted. That wasn't really too big of a deal. We get those all the time. This one though, well, right in the middle of the shave, she just decided she had to GO and go NOW and she squatted down a little and WHOOSH! I actually HEARD the pee before I saw it, it went so fast. She got the table, my left leg, my left shoe and the floor all around the table. Really, it's the kind of thing that's DAMN funny later that day or the next day when you're telling someone about it but at that particular moment what goes through your mind is, "yeah, it really is better to be pissed off than pissed on."

Saturday was doggie adoption day and boy did we ever have a lot of dogs in the store. We had our usual group from one of the local dog rescue places plus we had the cat lady (same thing but with cats) plus we had greyhounds. Then about mid-morning someone came in with PUPPIES! Everybody loves puppies right?

These cute little guys are chow-lab mix. Very friendly and very adorable as you can see. I took lots of pictures but only a few of them came out. Puppies don't stand still very much unless they're asleep. After several near-perfect shots that were almost always ruined by one puppy up front turning at the last minute, I finally decided I'd gotten all the good pictures I was going to get. That's when I remembered that my new digital camera also takes VIDEO. Well now, it's MUCH easier to take video of puppies than still pictures so I shot a little video of them too. The original is MUCH clearer and larger for that matter but it would have taken forever for people to download. I decided to put it on You Tube instead.

By the end of my shift all the little brown ones were gone. I guess most people found them the cutest. They were certainly the ones who were the most out-going. You can see them in the little video crawling all over each other trying to get as much attention as possible. They just weren't going to take NO for an answer.

We have no idea how big they'll eventually get. Both the parents were probably pretty big but when you mix the breeds like that, they don't always come out the same size. We've got several chow mixes that come through and only a couple are actually as big as a chow.

Sunday was a mixed bag really. One of my regulars came in for a shave. Her name is Taj Kamra and she's a Jack Russell terrier. I know what you're thinking, shave a JRT? Yeah, we do that sometimes, especially if they're a mix between a short hair and long hair. What happens is you get a sort of weird coat that's MOSTLY short but with occasional long hairs sticking out and it just looks WEIRD. In Taj's case, she has a medium length coat and the owner likes it short so that's what we do. Now, I bring all this up because it reminded me that there's a sort of unwritten rule in the universe that says if you want to earn tips, you have to spend the tips you already have. No, no it's true, really. See, just Saturday afternoon I spent the last of my accumulated tip money from a few weeks ago by tipping my hairdresser. Then I turn right around and start earning tips again. See how it works? There's some sort of hidden tip cap and when you reach that cap, no more tips will flow in until you spend what you have. I don't know who writes these rules, I just follow them :-)

We've got a new promotion coming out. Party collars! These are for Mardi Gras. They're free if you buy a certain type of bath for your dog. So far I haven't had any luck with them but mostly that's because we're tied up in selling all the Valentine's Day stuff. Yes, I know Mardi Gras comes a week BEFORE Valentine's Day but this is what they tell me to do so I do it. Anyway, I found two eager models for the party collars in Erin and Elle. They're regulars and are just SUPER cute so I thought I'd include their shots here.

* * *

There was a great little blurb in the alumni magazine from my university this month. The main article talks about what various students are doing over in Europe. Then in a little side-bar they talk about the program that allows the students to do the traveling. Here's what it says:

J. David Bowen's generosity is benefiting studends at The University of Texas at San Antonio.

When he died Jan 23, 1998, he left the bulk of his estate to create an endowment to fund European study and travel opportunities for undergraduates in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. According to his will, his desire was "to expose the students to cultures where history is ever present and commercialism does not have the last word."

The grandson of Jewish immigrants from Germany, Bowen was born in New York City in 1930 and grew up in New York and Chicago. After graduating from Harvard in 1951, he earned a master's degree in Latin American history at the City College of New York while also making a name for himself as an off-Broadway actor and Latin American travel writer.

Bowen arrived in San Antonio in 1966 as part of the planning staff for HemisFair '68 and never left the city he had grown to love. In the ensuing years, he came to be known locally as the "dean of San Antonio actors" as well as the consummate "bookman" through his rare book shop and Corona Publishing Company, which he started in 1977 to feature the works of Texas writers.

Is that cool or what? This just has good karma written all over it. Here he left the bulk of his estate to the university so they could do something like this even though he never went there. Because of him, kids who would otherwise never make it out of the US or perhaps never make it out of Texas get to see Europe, Latin America, wherever. At the same time, it was awfully nice of the alumni magazine to remind everyone who made all this possible in the first place. Usually when you see articles like this they only mention the donor in passing, if at all. So I think it's fantastic that they went out of their way to print a little mini-bio like that.

I will admit, I am a bit biased in this matter though. I did a few shows with David Bowen when I was working with Offstage. It's funny how Offstage was a sort of great equalizer among the people. We had David Bowen in a few of our shows and he was a Harvard graduate, had his own publishing company, etc. We had doctors, we had lawyers, we had TV personalities. We had waiters, we had store clerks, we had computer artists. Didn't make a difference. What you did outside the theater doors didn't matter. Once you came inside, you were an actor, or set builder, or stage manager or light board operator. That's how a guy like me, B.A. English from UTSA ends up working with someone like David Bowen :-)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Dogs of Monday and the PS2

Currently Reading: Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko

I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about what I do for a living. I'm a dog groomer, they know that, but for most people a dog grooming salon is where rich people take their fuzzy little poodles and shih tzus to be pampered and styled. Or maybe it's the kind of place a Paris Hilton wannabe goes to spend 50 bucks on a bath for a chihuahua. I'm sure there are places out there like that but I don't work at one of them.

To be fair, we do get a lot of smaller dogs like Billy Ray. He's part poodle, part bichon. Cute little guy. And we do get our share of shih tzus and yorkies and chihuahuas and any number of other small dogs that come in for a little pampering. That's just a small part of the business though.

This time of year many outside dogs are sleeping inside and their owners are finding that their dogs just don't smell very good. The dogs are also shedding like mad. This is why we get quite a few dogs like Connor here, a border collie mix who came in for a long shave and shaping up. His owner wanted shorter hair so there'd be less to deal with when it sheds but at the same time he didn't want the face and neck clippered so short that you lost the distinctive features of a border collie. Not an easy trick to pull off but I managed pretty well.

Then there are dogs like Jordan who only come in once or twice a year. This is her over on the left. She's a Newfoundland, which is a rather large breed, quite a bit like a black or brown St. Bernard but maybe just a little bit bigger. We've only got one St. Bernard who comes to our salon but I think he's on the small side. All of our Newfoundlands are bigger than him (we've got 4 Newfoundlands that come in now).

Anyway, when you have a dog like Jordan you've got to expect a little bit of shedding of course. With all that thick fur you just KNOW she's going to leave a trail of hair wherever she goes. She, and the others come in, usually in December or January for a REALLY good brushing out and cleaning up. Our goal really is just to get all the dead hair out of her coat and believe me there is a LOT of it. This, for example, is what it looked like shortly after her bath.

Keep in mind, that's just from HER and that's without doing any brushing of any kind. This is just what was left on the floor after the bath and blowdrying.

Keep in mind, the walls in our bathing area are covered in white tile. Yes, I know the picture is a LITTLE dark but not dark enough for the wall to look THAT gray. That's one furry wall!

And these are just the dogs of Monday, which is one of our slower days. Oh we did have a few more come in. Cannon was in early and was waiting for me when I arrived. She's a golden-doodle. That's part golden retriever, part standard poodle. Very popular these days. They're big, friendly, smart, gentle and best of all, they don't shed much. If the owners are able to keep the coat brushed out, they hardly ever get mats and tangles. Unfortunately most of these dogs are from families with children or active teens so they're not spending their days stretched out in the living room. No, the ones WE get are out there running around the yard, rolling around in everything. As a result, they can get pretty nasty with lots of big clumps of matted hair. When that happens we shave them down a bit. Some owners like us to make the dog look like a poodle, which we can do, easily, but most of them prefer something as UN-poodle-like as we can get. Cannon's owner is somewhere in the middle so we do a generic cut for her.

I also had a pair of yorkies come in as well but let's face it, after doing a dog like Jordan and one like Cannon, a tiny little yorkie just doesn't make much of a dramatic picture. They did both turn out very cute though and their owners were very happy :-)

But enough about work. It's my weekend! I should post about something FUN!

This weekend CC and I bought a PS2. For you older folks out there, no, that's not the IBM Personal Computer 2. It's a video game console, the Sony Playstation 2. And for you younger folks out there, yes, I KNOW it's nowhere near the latest tech in game playing but it's a reliable platform, there are still plenty of games available for it and there are still NEW games being written for it.

So why did we do it? Guitar Hero. You've heard us mention that game before. It's the one where you have a guitar-shaped controller and you use that to play notes as the stream down the screen. We have Guitar Hero 3 for the computer and we were pretty much happy with that until we started playing in co-op mode. In that mode, CC plays lead guitar, I play bass. Problem is, it's so graphically intense that it runs rather sluggish. The same problem occurs when CC plays the game on the higher difficulty levels. It's not really the fault of the computer though. I've seen reviewers log the same complaints about systems far more powerful than mine so it must be a design flaw.

Anyway, Saturday afternoon we went over to Best Buy and bought a PS2 and Guitar Hero 3 for the PS2 and Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80's and a spare guitar so we can both play at the same time using a guitar controller. And let me tell you, we're having a ball playing this game :-) CC can now practice her more complicated guitar solos without having to worry about freaky jumps in the game due to graphics problems. I like that we can play in co-op mode without the game messing up. Plus when we get tired of this game we can always get more (and since this is an older platform, the games cost less). On top of that, all my old Playstation games work on this new one AND it plays dvds, which will come in handy should one of our dvd players die on us.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The 7-Day Work Week

Currently Reading: Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Well now that was one LONG work week. I haven't had to do anything like that in a LONG time. You see, my boss, the salon manager, wanted to take a few days off. Fine, no problem there. I was supposed to shift my days off over by a day and that was it. Simple right? Pick up one extra day here, take off one extra day on the other end. Like anything in MY universe is simple.

My boss, poor woman, is cursed, I swear. If anything bad can possibly happen, it's going to happen to her or to someone in her immediate family. This week she's been living in a soap opera. I won't go into details here but rest assured she's been through a lot.

Now, because of that, and because there are just the two of us who are groomers in the salon, and SOMEONE has to be there to shave all those dogs, guess who got to fill in? Why naturally me. Captain America to the rescue right? I really should consider changing all my online names to something like that. Then again, to refuse to work in a situation like that is really just petty, mean, and selfish. She's going through all sorts of drama and I'm gonna be a jerk and say I can't cover because I want my usual days off? Nope, not gonna happen mister! I suppose this better falls under the category of being a merely decent human being.

Speaking of Captain America, and I know how many of you out there are interested in this sort of thing (oh come on, just pretend for me ok?), there's a NEW Captain America out there. You may recall seeing stories on the news about how the original Cap was assassinated on the stairs of the courthouse where he was heading for trial in the aftermath of the big Marvel Civil War.

All those theories that it was really a double who got shot or maybe somehow they'd find a way to bring him back, all rubbish. Dead is dead for a change in the Marvel universe, at least for now anyway. Wouldn't be the first time someone died then came back a few years later.

The seeds of Cap's replacement were planted quite a while back actually. Last year they ran a storyline where Cap's old partner from WWII came back. Turns out that he, like Cap, survived the same missile launch. In Cap's case, he landed somewhere in the arctic and was frozen. In Bucky's case (his partner) he was picked up by a Russian sub and they used him for some experiments, conditioning him to be a KGB assassin and keeping him on ice until they needed him. Every now and then they'd thaw him out, send him on a mission, pick him up again and back into the deep freeze.

When he found out Cap was dead, he was out for revenge. Since no one really knew who pulled the trigger, Bucky decided to go after the guy he found ultimately responsible: Iron Man! Iron Man was on the opposite side of Cap in the Civil War (there's just too much ground to cover here, just go with it). But Bucky being basically a decent guy, darker than Cap, but still a good guy, he couldn't go through with it. Iron Man explained a few things, they read a letter Cap left behind (in case he died of course) and in the end, Bucky is now Captain America.

Why is any of this important? Uh, well, I suppose in the grand scheme of things it isn't but all the same it'll be cool to see where they take this story now and it'll be interesting having a Captain America who's a little darker, a little closer to Wolverine and The Punisher.

Getting back to the salon though, I had a REALLY slow day on Tuesday. How slow? Absolutely NO appointments were made for that day. I did end up having some walk-ins but no one had made an appointment. It's not really uncommon or even a big deal except that we now have this white board in the salon where we're supposed to welcome the day's pet guests. No appointments, no guests for the white board. Blank white board. Can't have that. Have to put something on there right? When this happened before I'd put the names of my own pets (including the hamsters) up there but I didn't feel like doing that Tuesday. Instead I opened my PDA address book and grabbed some names.

If you were one of our guests on Tuesday, I hope you enjoyed the haircut I gave you :-D

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Currently Reading: Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko

When I think of the work of Stephen Sondheim what usually comes to mind is romantic-comedy. This is the man responsible for such Broadway hits as Gypsy, Company, A Little Night Music, Follies and Into The Woods, to name a few. He did the lyrics for West Side Story and gave us Send In The Clowns for crying out loud. But then there's Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney is the one musical that really stands out. Hell it would stand out in just about any body of work. Let's face it, how many Broadway musicals can you name that are about serial killing and meat pies?

The latest adaptation hit the theaters a few weeks ago. It stars Johnny Depp as Sweeney and Helena Bonham Carter as his landlady. CC and I watched it on the first and I must say I was very impressed by it. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would object to Tim Burton as the director. This story is SO his type of story.

Sweeney Todd centers around a barber who has been thrown into prison so a judge could court his wife. Years later he gets out and moves back into his old neighborhood looking for revenge. Naturally he goes completely mad and sets off on a killing spree. His landlady has a rather clever and profitable way to deal with the bodies. She uses them to make meat pies. Not exactly Sunday in the Park with George is it? More like Sunday in the Park with George Romero (the Night of the Living Dead guy).

Anyway, I remember the early press on this one. There were several critics who were set against Burton doing this movie. Granted he doesn't exactly have a lot of experience in musical theater but her certainly dishes out many a dark image and usually with a twist of humor. That's perfect for this piece. As a whole, it's so well-written that you end up rooting for Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett for a while, until you come to your senses of course. In the end, Sweeney and company make a whole bloody mess of everything and everyone gets their just desserts, if you'll pardon the pun.

I must say, if this movie doesn't prove Johnny Depp can do pretty much anything, then nothing will. CC and I were talking about this on the way home. Is there anything he hasn't done yet? She pointed out that he hasn't played a woman but we wouldn't put it past him if the right part came along. He did dress up in drag in Ed Wood, don't forget.

I don't know who will get nominated for the Oscars this year but I would certainly hope that Depp, Burton and Helena Bonham Carter all get something. It's not really the kind of movie Hollywood likes to reward of course, there are no clever allusions to politics, no nods to any fashionable social causes. But it would be nice to see some nominations spread around. It's not like this was a particularly great year in film.

So, if you've got a strong stomach, go and watch Sweeney Todd. If you DON'T have a strong stomach, well I'd advise you to not look at the screen any time he has someone in the chair with a razor in his hand. CC was in the habit of covering her eyes every time someone sat down.

It's funny. She couldn't watch as Sweeney slit throat after throat and yet, what did she say as the closing credits rolled up the screen? "I want a chicken pot pie. Do you feel like chicken pot pie?" We didn't have chicken pot pie for dinner but we did have sheepard's pie, which is close enough :-)