Archive for March, 2014

Last Forever Part One

I would issue a spoiler alert, but something has to be of value in order to spoil. Instead, we have the final episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which everything the show has been building to is tossed aside with callous abandon and the only characters to get out unscathed are Marshmallow and Lilypad.

Truly, I’m more upset right now than I was after watching the Red Wedding. Senseless violence sounds like a warm blanket after what now feels like a nine-year emotional manipulation.

Sorry, I’ll try and get it together. Let’s begin.

On May 16, 2011, the How I Met Your Mother season 6 finale aired on CBS. In that episode, fans learned that the predestined wedding where Ted Mosby would meet the future mother of his children was actually that of his best friend/wingman Barney Stinson.

In the three years that followed (THREE YEARS!) audiences watched the evolution of Barney Stinson from a philandering cad to a more mature and loving adult who was ready to commit and marry Robin Cherbowsky. Their wedding took place last week, in a very touching episode that was hopeful and nostalgic for fans of the show.

In 15 minutes, Monday’s series finale laid waste to that relationship, showing us a future in which Barney and Robin enjoy three tumultuous years before calling it quits, allowing Barney to revert entirely back to his philandering ways and rendering the progression of the last three years moot in the process. Those feels you feeled during the wedding episode? Pointless.

But that was nothing, because the minute the couple’s eventual divorce was made known, the proverbial writing was on the wall for our protagonist and the titular mother. We were already teased that her life would be cut short by disease a few weeks ago, and with Robin and Barney’s union dissolved it was readily apparent how the show would end.

In 15 minutes the writers of How I Met Your Mother undid three years of character development for Mr. and Mrs. Stinson, and cheapened a nine-year search for Mrs. Mosby.

Sure, Ted gave a lovely monologue about how much his time with Tracy (*scoff*, Tracy) had meant to him and how he valued every moment with her. It’s a nice sentiment and not hard to believe that in the reality of the show is true. But as a viewer, forced to consume a loving couple’s entire 10-year relationship over the space of an hour through a rapid-fire series of vignettes, it felt like lip service.

The Mother was not the end of Ted’s story, but another diversion on a circular road that led him right back to where we began, blue french horn in hand, looking up into Robin’s window. The final statement of HIMYM is that Ted’s journey leads to Robin, and in another life they may have arrived there 20 years earlier without the necessity of killing off a very pretty brunette bass player.

The foundation of hope that supported the run of HIMYM, knowing that no matter how many times Ted fails he will eventually find the love of his life, crumbles. In fact, it’s a lie.

Ted wasn’t searching for the love of his life, he was merely looking for a fertile vessel to sire his children. The love of his life was there the whole time, and those of us who spent 9 years of Monday nights following along were dupes to expect otherwise.

It’s especially crushing when last week’s penultimate episode offered the perfect series sign-off. We watch the Stinson nuptials, we pass through the updates on our secondary characters, we see Mr. and Mrs. Mosby sharing their perfect “sometimes you just find things” exchange under the yellow umbrella, and that kids, is how I met your mother.

Beyond the flash-forwards the viewers had already seen (Marshall’s judgeship, the first date, Barney and Robin waking up from a hangover in someone else’s hotel room) the future would exist in the minds of the viewer, free to individually create the story they saw fit. Hopeful. Legendary.

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I can probably count on one hand the times that I’ve been to Taco Bell, but something about the recent ad campaign for its new line of breakfast items had a Pavlovian effect on me. I love waffles. I love when meat and waffles are combined. Taco Waffles, you say? I had to have one.

So on my way home from the gym this morning I made a detour to the drive through and ordered two Taco Waffles, one each of the bacon and sausage variety for a more scientific examination (and because I’m a big, fat, fatty).

Taste

The bacon WT was a complete fail. Sloppily arranged with a dash of bacon bits resting on a bed of lukewarm eggs and cheese, its saving grace was the copious amount of maple syrup I drizzled on top. As for the sausage, it was an improvement on its counterpart with a more complimentary blend of tastes and textures, but hardly memorable. The eggs were lifeless, the cheese was what you expect from fast food. The waffle, however, did hit that sweet spot with a tender center and crisp exterior.

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The first thing I noticed about the WT is that it’s quite a bit smaller than it appears on the advertisements. You’d think I’d be used to this sort of disappointment when it comes to fast food but for some reason I still expected something along the lines of a Chalupa rather than the Why Pay More Crunchy Taco. All in all, opening the clam-shell container the WTs arrive in gives way to something that is largely unappetizing.

Price

At $1.99, the WTs are adequately priced, meaning that while I doubt I’ll ever buy another one I feel I basically got what I paid for. I still like the concept of a Waffle Taco, and would love to see a local food truck roll out a more substantial $7 version at some point.

Mouth Feel

I honestly don’t know how to judge mouth feel, suffice it to say that there was nothing patently objectionable about the experience of chewing and swallowing the Waffle Taco.

Portability

One thing I do have to tip my hat to is the ease with which you can eat a Waffle Taco. The contents stayed well within the confines of the Waffle shell and its size allows for one-handed eating while driving. The one sticking point would be the syrup (see what I did there?) which has the potential for spillage and one would be wise to apply with caution.

Verdict

It’s a $2 waffle sandwich from Taco Bell, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Barring exigent circumstances and considering how easy it is to cook waffles and sausage at home, I suggest you try your hand at a DIY version.

 

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A while ago my friend Erin posted on Facebook that she wanted to take trip to Zion National Park for spring break. “Spring Break” isn’t really an aspect of my life any more but the prospect of a camping trip in Zion immediately piqued my interest, as it did for my friend/colleague Jordan, so we hopped on board.

As it turns out, Erin is the boy who cried vacation. She immediately bailed, leaving me and Jordan to take the trip that was her idea in the first place. This wasn’t a big deal, I just know she’ll be reading this and I want to take advantage of every opportunity to rub her nose in it.

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With Erin out of the way – Good Riddance! amirite? – Jordan decided he wanted to take advantage of the trip to visit a few photo-ready places around Utah and northern Arizona. We started by spending our first night in Goblin Valley – most known outside of Utah for doubling as an alien planet in Galaxy Quest and inside of Utah for recently being vandalized by Boy Scout leaders in the name of “safety.”

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Goblin Valley is a bizarrely beautiful place, teeming with bulbous rock formations – or ‘Hoodoos‘ – that contrast perfectly with the clear blue sky. I remember going there as a kid on family vacations and playing tag for hours at end. Now, as a 27-year-old, a few minutes of walking around and scampering over rocks was enough to wear me out.

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But scamper we did. Jordan got out early while the sun was setting. I slept in and did what I could with the harsh lighting.

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From Goblin Valley we headed south to Monument Valley (first picture above) where Forest Gump decided he didn’t really feel like running any more. I’m a sucker for bridges, especially ones that burst out of rocky cliffs. The bright yellow sign is a little jarring, you would think the engineers would anticipate that this picture would be taken.

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Monument Valley was a first for me (I think. My parents took me all over the place when I was too young to remember). Before arriving at the actual valley we went through the Moki Dugway, a series of tight switchbacks that drop 1,000 feet over 3 miles on an unpaved road.

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That’s Jordan. He doesn’t like having his picture taken.

DPP_16We stayed in Monument Valley on our second night, then dipped briefly into Arizona in the morning to stop at Horseshoe Bend. I went to Dead Horse Point last year and figured it would be about the same but at Horseshoe Bend, you can walk right up to the edge, which is either a great or terrible thing depending on your attitude toward heights.

From there we made our way to Zion, which is probably the best hiking in all of Utah. We got in a little late, so the first night we just took a quick stroll up the Hidden Canyon Trial by the Weeping Rock.

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The next day’s hike was not so quick. Most of our itinerary was set by Jordan but I insisted that we do Angel’s Landing, which sends hikers climbing to the top of a 1,488-foot rock formation. Along the way we passed a crew from BBC America who were apparently filming a woman who was going to spend the next three days climbing up the cliff face to the top of the Landing. Multiple-day rock climbing is a whole other kind of crazy.

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Angel’s Landing is the kind of trail that hiking was made for. Roughly half of the trip is straight up via switchbacks, with the other half being either a paved trail cut out of the side of the rock or a chain-assisted scramble with certain death at every side.

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It ends at an area that is roughly the size of my studio apartment. The last time I did it I was probably 11 years old and having now gone back I’m fairly certain that first trip was an elaborate scheme by my parents to get away with filicide. I mean really, who would take a child up there? “He just slipped,” they would say from behind forlorn expressions, “there was nothing we could do.”

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From the landing, you can almost see the whole park end-to-end. We had perfect weather, hot enough for comfort but cold enough to avoid a sweat-drenched death. The view, as always, was impeccable.

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“‘Innocent’ isn’t a verdict, Mr. Graham, but ‘Not Guilty’ is.”

That was the statement, uttered on the latest episode of NBC’s ‘Hannibal’ that launched the character of Will Graham’s defense attorney into a monologue about how courtroom proceedings are not law, but advertising. His job, he explained, was to convince a group of people to purchase a product they did not need, in this case a favorable verdict for an accused mass murderer and intelligent psychopath.

He then proceeded to tear open the seal of a package that had just arrived, spilling its contents – a severed, human ear – onto the table in front of him.

“I think I opened your mail,” he said, calmly, unfazed.

Much has been said about the graphically violent content of NBC’s Hannibal, and rightly so. The show continually pushes the known boundaries of broadcast television standards review, looking ever-more like its cable-tv competition than the bright-colored offerings of its major network peers.

To wit, episode 2 of the current season began with a man waking atop a bed of human bodies. His limbs were pressed together with wax and he was stitched through the shoulder to the corpse laying beside him. Freeing himself required tearing his flesh to first separate his legs and arms and then again to pull the stitching from his shoulder, all of which was portrayed by an unflinching camera lens that neither blinked nor wavered.

But the most interesting thing about ‘Hannibal’ is not the horrors that transpire on screen but the horrors that exist within the human mind. Gore is cheap, but nothing on Hannibal is done cheaply. The visuals are rich, the score is haunting and the attention to detail and scene creates an experience somewhere between dream and nightmare.

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But all of that serves as backdrop to what is one of the most finely-tuned plot-driven narratives currently on television. Every episode is in service of a larger story, perpetually advancing toward a foreshadowed and inevitable end, which trades on the expectations of crime- and court-procedural television to deliver something wholly unique.

Season two began with our hero, Will Graham, in prison accused of the murders perpetrated by our villain, Hannibal Lecter. A flash-forward tells us that by the end of the season at least Laurence Fishburne’s FBI agent Jack Crawford will have made the paradigm shift on Lector’s guilt.

Flash-forwards typically lead to disappointing narrative ends, but in the case of ‘Hannibal’ the entire series is working toward a known conclusion presented in ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. We know where we are, we know where we’re going, but how we get there is a mystery to all but showrunner Bryan Fuller and in the meantime the show keeps getting better.

Most shows have the loose outlines of their narrative objections but largely fly by the seat of their pants from episode to episode and season to season. By contrast, every minute of ‘Hannibal’ feels like the passing chapters of a well-constructed plan.

It is methodical, it is provocative and it is darn good television.

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Full disclosure: I’ve had a mani-pedi before. Last year two of my friends were lawfully wedded and a small group of guests, including myself, found ourselves in a position to kill some time between the actual nuptials and a reception later that evening (it’s a Utah thing).

We were eating lunch at a strip mall in Draper, debating our options, when I noticed Luxury Nail & Spa sitting on the other side of the parking lot. And that, as they say, was that.

Generally speaking, this project is about new experiences, but I decided to treat myself to my second mani-pedi for the month of February since a) they are delightful and b) it was the perfect juxtaposition for my guest.

Nic Dunn is a former reporter who now works in government communications. He’s a traditional masculine who works in a suit and tie, drives a truck and literally – and I mean “literally” literally – never leaves the house without a firearm. Being a member of the media scum myself, our professional lives intersect from time to time and when not on the clock we enjoy getting bogged down in boisterous political debates.

He’s OK.

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We discarded our shoes, rolled up our trousers and slumped down into the plush massage chairs at Luxury Nails & Spa, bantering amongst ourselves about work and women while a small team of nice ladies poked, prodded and scrubbed at our hands and feet.

My favorite aspect of a manicure is, was and always will be the paraffin wax. The wax coating feels great and after it hardens and is peeled away your feet are left feeling so fresh, so clean (so fresh and so clean, clean). One of these days I’ll have to do a full-body paraffin wrap, but today is not that day.

So, properly pampered, Nic and I headed to the Goodwood Barbecue Company to conduct our interview over some pulled pork and brisket.

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Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Nic Dunn: I’m a PR expert for the state of Utah. I run all messaging with reporters for the Department of Workforce Services. I’m a Nevadan by birth, a Utahn by choice and…

WS: That’s good enough for me. I’m assuming today was your first Mani-Pedi?

ND: I had a manicure on one finger one time.

WS: Yeah. We’re not going to count that.

ND: Ok.

WS: So what did you think?

ND: The weirdest thing is the slippery stuff on my fingers. My fingernails are usually not slippery for a sustained period of time.

WS: Is that the only weird thing?

ND: I usually don’t have random women handling my fingers and toes for an extended period of time either.

WS: I think that’s my favorite thing about Mani-Pedis. There’s these people working on you and you just act like they’re not even there. I almost feel like some kind of Greco-Roman emperor.

ND: It does feel regal to be there.

WS: Walk me through the Mani-Pedi. What they did and how it felt. Paint me a word picture.

ND: Basically the experience is women tugging on my fingers and toes and periodically scraping them.

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WS: I thought the scraping felt awesome.

ND: I don’t know if I loved the scraping.

WS: Not even when they went on your heel and got your callouses?

ND: Going on my callouses on my left heel felt great. On my right foot it tickled and I couldn’t handle it. I was shaking my leg back and forth. The lady probably thought I was having a seizure or something.

WS: I always wonder what they are saying, because you know they were talking about us: two dudes rocking a mani-pedi on a Saturday morning.

ND: It was fun. It was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

WS: Something you would do again?

ND: Yeah. Definitely outside my element but I think I came to an appreciation because it’s basically a massage for your fingernails and toenails. My hands still smell like some kind of minty lotion.

WS: You say outside your element, how would you describe your element?

ND: More manly. I’m a man’s man. I like barbecue, rock music, trucks, guns and dogs.

WS: Speaking of guns, you are packing right now I assume?

ND: Yes, always.

WS: Let’s talk about that mentality. Give me the root reason why you, personally, carry a weapon.

ND: The root reason is I want to be prepared to defend myself or others should the need ever arise. I know that kind of sounds like a talking point but I have this feeling that I don’t like being helpless in situations and just the idea that if I ever found myself in a situation where people were in danger from others in any way, the idea that I would be helpless to do anything – whether it’s my family, my friends or complete strangers – doesn’t sit well with me.

WS: I can understand that. I’m assuming you’ve never had to shoot someone?

ND: Nope.

WS: In that instance, with a human being in your sights, do you think you’d be able to pull the trigger?

ND: Given the proper context, there’s no question in my mind.

WS: No question?

ND: No question. Proper context being, they’re about to kill me or someone else.

WS: You don’t think you’d even hesitate?

ND: Not at all. If someone was pointing a gun at my wife, kid, friend, no question, even if it’s a stranger.

WS: When did you first get your carry permit?

ND: It would have been about four years ago.

WS: What is your weapon of choice?

ND: 1911 Kimber .45. Best of the best. It’s a good gun.

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WS: I don’t doubt it. I know nothing about guns, it sounds swell.

ND: It’s a little fancier and nicer.

WS: What makes it fancier? Does it have a pearl grip?

ND: No, but you can get those. Some guns are like your average Toyotta Corolla.

WS: The car I drive.

ND: Yeah. You’re driving a Glock, basically. Solid, very reliable, everybody likes them. Definitely a good excellent choice. Kimber’s are a little more…is a Cadillac a nice car? I don’t know anything about cars.

WS: Cadillacs are nice.

ND: So a Kimber is kind of like a Cadillac. It’s more expensive, it’s nicer. The Corolla is still going to do the job. I went to the gun range a while back to get a new pistol and I rented half a dozen different pistols. Tried them out. Spent a lot of money, a lot of ammo trying different guns out. The Kimber was the one that I was most accurate with, by a significant margin. It just felt amazing in my hand. The grip, the recoil, everything about it just fit perfectly. You want to shoot whatever you’re most comfortable with.

WS: We obviously live where guns are commonplace. But what are some of the reactions you get when people realize you’ve got a loaded gun on your hip?

ND: Usually this happens at the end of the date. You have the customary hug at the end of the date and you bid goodnight. It can be a little surprise.

WS: Like, is that a gun on your belt or are you just happy to see me?

ND: Exactly.

WS: Has that ever been a problem for people?

ND: Not in Utah. Not at all when I lived in Nevada before here. Most people, I think, accept it as a thing that some people to so it’s not so surprising. One thing I do see coming up sometimes is people asking ‘are you just paranoid? Why would you carry a loaded weapon around, are you assuming that at any moment someone’s going to burst into this barbecue joint and start murdering everybody?’

WS: Are you?

ND: Of course not. That’s absurd. But it doesn’t meant it’s impossible. The odds of me getting in a car wreck , granted, are much higher than getting attacked, but I still wear a seatbelt. It’s an easy way to combine a hobby that  I love with an added level of security. Even thought the likelihood of needing that security is low. I just enjoy having it with me because it’s a hobby.

It’s like a photographer who loves taking pictures and has a camera with them at all times, even if they rarely actually took a picture, the likelihood of that perfect photo coming up that they had to get at exactly that moment.

WS: That’s a fine metaphor, but at the same time in one scenario that’s a person capturing a rainbow or sunset and in the other scenario it’s someone shooting and killing another human being.

ND: There’s virtually no additional cost for me to have it with me versus not. I train with it, it’s a hobby that I like. And in that rare circumstance that it becomes useful, all those hours of practicing and money spent at the range will become instantly worth it.

WS: How often do you go to the range?

ND: I’d say on average, once a month. I try to go more but it’s hard when you’re busy.

WS: Some people would say that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Does that apply to gun ownership?

ND: No, because the vast majority of gun owners who carry regularly, to my knowledge at least, are not the type who are going to jump to that use of force. People don’t usually carry guns because they’re itching to use them, they carry them just in case they ever have to.

WS: For our manicures we got a clear veneer.  Why didn’t you select a shade that would have matched your holster?

ND: I didn’t know I had the option.

WS: Oh, that’s my fault then.

ND: The nice young lady said something I didn’t understand, I looked at you and you said ‘yes’.

WS: Why were there two people working on you? I only had one lady.

ND: I clearly look more important than you. I don’t know, I was wondering that same thing.

WS: Maybe they could sense that you were a first timer.

ND: They knew I was a little nervous.

WS: They needed to be gentle. What was the best part of the mani-pedi? Was there any one thing they did that was particularly nice?

ND: I don’t know what it’s called but there was an orange exfoliating scrub they rubbed on my legs, basically giving me a calf massage. That was cool.

WS: What did you think of the wax?

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ND: It was weird, but I’m excited to go rub my toes on some soft carpet. My feet are soft now.

WS: You say that and my head immediately flashes to weird fetishist websites where you hit your feet with a ping pong paddle and crush grapes.

ND: That’s a bit of a leap, but you know…

WS: Well your feet are ready for it now. Any last thoughts?

ND: It was a neat experience that expanded my worldview a little bit.

WS: I’m happy to have been a part of that.

ND: The stereotypes and preconceptions I had about certain things, that I thought before, have been refined.

WS: What did you think before about mani-pedis?

ND: That it’s totally lame for guys to do it.

WS: And now?

ND: It’s only a little bit lame, and kind of fun.

WS: Are you on twitter?

ND: I am on twitter actually. @NJamesDunn. Mostly it’s political stuff and work stuff.

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