Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Help

Kathryn Stockett's "The Help" is definitely the best book that I've read in a long time. I know that I'm late to this party, as I've heard quite a few friends, co-workers, and acquaintances talking about this book over the past year or so. I finally decided to read it based on a number of positive recommendations, and I'm glad that I did. It was one of those rare books that I didn't want to put down, and I didn't want it to end. "The Help" centers around African American maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s and the white women they work for. Stockett does a spectacular job of creating real, vivid, human characters. Aibileen and Minnie, two of the maids, are memorable and delightful characters. They're people you wish that you knew. Of course, there' s a villain, and her name is Hilly, the evil, racist, bossy, powerful white woman who heads up the Jackson Junior League. Stockett's creative and original story details what life was like only 50 years ago in the segregated South, and sheds light on the complex relationships between African American maids and their white employers. It's one thing to study the civil rights movement and read about the events that helped everyone, including African Americans, receive their Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. It's another to hear about real people and what they went through. While fiction, the stories of Aibileen, Minnie, and the other maids personalize in a vivid manner what life was like in the Deep South for African Americans not that long ago. Similarly, Hilly, Elisabeth, and the other white women give readers an idea of the deep racism held by white people during that time. Stockett effectively portrays the contradiction that the maids effectively raised the white children, but could not use the same bathroom as their white employers. Skeeter, a white woman who is a recent college graduate, has had enough of the immoral racism of her peers, and she sets out to learn and share the stories of the maids. The story is compelling and well told.

For me, "The Help" is in a similar genre as "To Kill a Mockingbird," and I mean that as high praise. A wonderful portrayal of humanity. 10 of 10.


Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is one of my favorite books. 10 of 10. "Sense and Sensibility" is also a great read. So I thought that I'd try "Emma." To say that for me "Emma" pales in comparison to "Pride and Prejudice" is a huge understatement. For as much as I love "Pride and Prejudice," I didn't care for "Emma." I found every character in the book, particularly Emma herself, Mr. George Knightley, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Woodhouse, Harriet Smith - the whole lot was irritating. Emma is a spoiled and bossy brat who always gets her way. And she's rewarded with a kind, albeit boring, husband at the end of the book in spite of her impetuous selfishness.

And don't accuse me of being anti-Jane Austen. I think she's great in "Pride and Prejudice" and in "Sense and Sensibility." But Emma was terrible. I was incredibly glad to finally finish reading this seemingly never ending novel. 2 of 10.

The Longest Trip Home

My mom and my brother read "The Longest Trip Home" by John Grogan. I wanted to avoid the book, but they convined me to read it. The memoir of Grogan's childhood in white suburban Detroit is extremely maudlin, nostalgic, and self-indulgent. There's a lot about Grogan's boyhood pranks with his friends, his discovery of girls and first romances, and his relationship with his parents. But I was interested since one of the themes of the book is Grogan's relationship with Roman Catholicism, how he broke away from the Catholic Church, and how his extremely Catholic (with a capital C) parents dealt with that. I enjoyed this aspect of the book since I was raised Catholic, but left that faith more than five years ago. Another part of the book that had merit was how Grogan dealt with his father's cancer and his mother's dementia. I found this aspect touching and well-done. Overall, though, it wasn't a favorite. 5 of 10.

Netflix streaming update

I wrote about the difficulties I've been having with Netflix streaming in this post. Since that time I've done quite a bit of troubleshooting. Netflix and Time Warner both agree that the problem is with my RoadRunner Internet service. Both Netflix and Time Warner acknowledge that the Mbps of my RoadRunner looks like a roller coaster. Sometimes it's high (in excess of 23 Mbps), and at other times it's low (1.5 Mbps). There are no difficulties with my TV, Blu-Ray player, wireless router, or with Netflix; the problem is with Time Warner's RoadRunner. TimeWarner re-set my Internet service, but that didn't do anything. Now they want me to bring in my modem, which is circa 2004, and get a newer version. Hopefully that will do the trick, but I'm not optimistic. We'll see what happens with the new modem.

White House Staff: It Gets Better

What a great video from members of the White House staff. These men and women are fine role models. I wish that there had been role models such as this when I was young. I'm glad that young people today can see role models like these great people. It gets better!

I like to make passes at guys who wear glasses

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Well, hello

Monday, December 13, 2010

Being 37

Being 37 means that you spend more time in doctor and dentist offices than you did in your 20s. Mikel wrote about this reality on his blog.

I had six cavities that were drilled and filled when I was young. Back then dentists used silver amalgam fillings that contained mercury, which can have pretty bad side effects if those fillings break down and the mercury gets into your system. My dentist (she's been my dentist since 1988 by the way) told me that she wanted to replace the silver amalgam fillings with tooth colored resin. I had the last two silver amalgam fillings replaced with new tooth colored resin on Friday. So now that's done.

This morning I went to my internal medicine/primary care doctor for my annual physical, which I haven't had done in about 20 months. The exam and my labs were all fine, so that was good news to receive.

One minor issue: I pointed out a spot on my scalp that has seemed kind of strange the past three months. With skin as fair (read: pale) as mine, I've learned that I need to be vigilant about any unusual freckles or other unusual things on my skin, since I'm in a high risk group for skin cancer with my red hair, fair skin, and freckles. The doctor said that it was an actinic keratosis, which basically means an unusual patch of skin that could, over time, develop into skin cancer. The doctor used liquid nitrogen to freeze those skin cells, causing them to die, and that takes care of the problem. Another word for the procedure they did is cryotherapy, and it's incredibly easy and noninvasive, even if it's temporarily uncomfortable. The liquid nitrogen freezing is easy compared to something that needs to be cut off, in which case a dermatologist has to physically cut the nevus (freckle) off, and they usually have it biopsied to make certain it's not cancerous. I've had that done a couple of times, as well. The actual cutting isn't a big deal, either, but the freezing is easier.

I recommend a visit to the dermatologist for anyone with a concern about an ABCDE on their skin.

Next up: annual eye exam in April. Annual dermatologist visit late spring/early summer.