The Savages at the Dryden

Tamara Jenkins' The Savages played at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) and Ali and I went to see it. They also screened one of her short films from film school, Family Remains. It had a very stylized veneer and told the tale of a mother and daughter who need to confront the death of the divorced husband. It was generally pretty good, but obviously less skillfully made than Jenkins' later work.

The Savages was an excellent film as in its own right. It tells the tale of two siblings, Jon and Wendy, reunited when their father is diagnosed with dementia. They put him in a nursing home near where Jon lives in Buffalo and end up learning a lot about one another's lives in the process.

I was disappointed to that some scenes felt contrived — although Ali disagrees and enjoyed the organic serendipity of it. In one case, it's important for Wendy to meet with Howard, one of the caretakers at the nursing home. She had brought her cat from New York and is allowed to let it stay at the nursing home. I thought it contrived that the cat gets in a fight with another cat at the home, so when Wendy goes to get it, she and Howard end up cornering it under a couch which and end up having a conversation one-on-one.

In all, though, that's a minor fault. One of the best things about the film is that Laura Linney as Wendy and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon are both excellent leads. To be completely honest, though, the movie is stolen by a perfectly invisible performance by Philip Bosco as their dad, Lenny.

Make Way for Tomorrow at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Make Way for Tomorrow. Tamara Jenkins gave a brief introduction after Jim Healy — the film was influential when she was writing her own film, The Savages. I liked her breezy, run-on way of talking and identified with "guilty writer syndrome" where rather than writing the script for The Savages, she took a break to see Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at a local film house, as it's on many "must-see" lists, particularly for filmmakers.

So upon watching it, she discovered it was based on a film from the 1930's: Make Way for Tomorrow (which, in turn, is based on a play and book). She and her husband sought to find a copy, and after exhausting film and video sources, they turned to eBay where they bought a VHS copy that was recorded on late-night TV, commercials-and-all. Presumably she got to see a private screening during her visit: she quipped that she has greatly enjoyed Rochester even though she's only seen it from the interior of the Dryden Theatre: she spent her time watching movies from the Eastman House archive.

Anyway, Make Way for Tomorrow was the saddest movie I ever saw. It starts out with a family of adult siblings being called to their parents' home. Their father explains that he failed to pay the mortgage and the house is being lost to foreclosure. His kids are relieved to find they have 6 months to vacate, but when they ask, he admits that the 6 months runs out in just a few days. The siblings try to accommodate their parents but all of them also try to maintain their own lives as if there were no disruption.

It's clear that all the parents (Bart and Lucy) want is to be together, but they have no means to do so on their own. Initially they're housed just a few hundred miles away on the East coast so they write letters to one another and rarely call (I guess they didn't have unlimited long distance). The siblings make a ditch effort to house their parents in the much more temperate climate of California with their sister. But when they find she is only willing to take care of Bart, they elect to put Lucy into a nursing home and send Bart alone.

The siblings are welcome their parents' meager request to spend one last day together. They spend it around New York — Bart still trying to find work to make ends meet. In lieu of dining with their children, they visit the hotel where they had their honeymoon and are welcomed by the staff. But alas, Bart's train is to leave and they get to the train station to say goodbye.

Just before Bart boards, he turns back to Lucy and says [pardon my paraphrasing], "and just in case there's a wreck or anything happens and I don't see you again, I just wanted to say that the last 50 years with you have been the best I could ever hope for." Lucy reciprocates — and it's abundantly clear that they will not ever see one another again.

I tried to explain the film to Ali when I got home but I broke down telling her about the last scenes. It's really unbelievable and deserves to be seen by many more people.

Ali Ran in the Corporate Challenge

I just thought I'd briefly mention that I went to RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map) to see Ali run in The JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge this year. She planned on just walking the whole thing but she and some of her coworkers ended up running for a couple miles of it. The food her company catered was really excellent — and they were thoughtful enough to include beer and wine.

Decisions, Fear, and Excitement

I got into a discussion on Tribe the other day about what is fear — specifically, when are decisions made because of fear. I argued that fear never comes into play in decision making because it never gets the chance to be explored. I talked about this with my friend Tony and he pointed out that biologically, fear is the same thing as excitement — the only difference is attitude. So I thought I'd revisit all of it and try and tie it into something coherent.

In the Extreme Honesty Tribe, I made a case for fear never actually being experienced in a rational decision-making process. It's a semantic argument, but important: saying one didn't act because of fear usually means they decided to avoid a situation that might cause fear. For instance, saying "you didn't apply for that creative director job because of fear" doesn't really mean that you were afraid — you just avoided the anxious experience.

In other words, fear is the experience of feeling anxious from taking an action that has a broad and unpredictable set of outcomes. Curiously, it's the same circumstances that cause excitement — except that instead of anxiety, one feels invigoration. Hence, it's all attitude; whether one is worrying about a negative outcome or anticipating a positive one.

Let me start a scenario to work from: running into a busy street, right into traffic. When I think about it, I think, "that's a stupid idea because I'd probably get run over." If I imagine myself actually doing it, there would be screeching tires and people honking their horns and maybe some collisions; I might get run into and thrown over a car; or maybe I get whacked and injured bad enough to lose consciousness and end up in a hospital.

But then I think, "well, I actually probably won't get run over unless I jump right out in front of a moving car." What would probably really happen is that people would honk and yell and stop. If I made my way to the other side, they'd probably cuss and gesticulate angrily and that would be that.

In that is an interesting demonstration: that our reflexive rational sense is often quite flawed. If I say, "why don't you just run out into traffic?" the reflexive answer is something like, "so I don't get hit by a car". However, if you separate "running into traffic" into two cases — "arbitrarily jumping into traffic" and "abruptly entering traffic such that an attentive driver would have adequate time to stop" — you find that two separate risks emerge. In the former, there's a statistical likelihood that you're going to get hit: if cars pass at an average of one every 5 seconds and it takes 2 seconds for them to successfully stop, then your odds are 2/5 that you'll get hit by a car if you randomly enter traffic. But if you only enter traffic when an attentive driver has the ability to stop, your chances of getting hit are much lower — let's say (arguably …. arguably)1 in 200 that a driver is not being attentive — then that's your odds of being hit. It's still not enough to warrant the risk, at least for most of us, but if you add in your own ability to jump clear in the 2 seconds when a driver is failing to stop, then it's really not all that bad.

But that in itself is a flawed argument. While statistical analysis opens up to new ways of understanding the world, it still is not a predictive tool: it can only guarantee the outcome of future statistical analysis. For instance, no matter how many ways I analyze the results of the roll of a 6-sided die, I still cannot predict the outcome of the next roll. If I run into traffic — whether arbitrarily or with caution — I cannot predict whether I will actually be hit by a car.

So now where's our rational mind? Mine says, "Well, regardless: I don't want to piss people off". I'll leave an exercise for the student to chase each risk and reward (to oneself, to the drivers, and to society in general) of such behavior to its nonexistent conclusion.

But what would the point be — of running into traffic, for instance? Therein lies the point of the whole thing: I don't know and neither do you. Perhaps one would grok the behavior of people in cars and find solace in that. Perhaps one would realize that they have been overly cautious their whole life. Perhaps someone turns around and seeks the pedestrian to punch them. Perhaps one would get hit by a car. — I don't know.

I can guarantee, though: that one will face a situation where the outcome is unknown. And that is the root of both fear and excitement.

I can also say that I experience regret whenever I encounter a situation that would force me to face unknown outcomes and I avoid it because of that — that I avoid a situation if I believe myself to be unlikely to succeed without evidence. I regret it because I think it perpetuates a state of childhood — that dispelling the unknowable through experience is the path to true adulthood.

And I think it is indicative in the culture around me. Powers-that-be are drawn to the safe and the statistically demonstrable. We shun risk-takers — and at the same time admire them … in an instinctive way. I think it is our nature to face the unknown to make it understood.

The ultimate, permanently un-shareable unknown is death itself. Only by constantly building confidence in our ability to face the unknown can we even hope to face our inevitable ends with peace, confidence, and grace.

Eminent Domain, Duffy-Style

I noted a press release from City Hall (30 Church St.) from May 23, 2008 titled "Mayor Duffy Statement on Court's Approval of Midtown Condemnation Proceeding". The title implies Midtown was condemned, but the body of the release states, "we are thankful for Judge Van Strydonck's decision to grant our motion to take ownership of Midtown by eminent domain." My confusion was directly clarified in the Wikipedia article on eminent domain, explaining that "the term 'condemnation' is used to describe the formal act of the exercise of the power of eminent domain" and that it is "not to be confused with the same term that describes a declaration that real property, generally a building, has become so dilapidated as to be legally unfit for human habitation due to its physical defects."

While I'm no fan of the myriad of ways the government can take away one's earned property, I do give preference to those methods which are a simple if-then algorithm. What I mean by that is things like property tax: I at least know that if I do not pay my property tax, the government will take that property away. As such, I can choose my course of action and understand the reaction.

Exercising the power of eminent domain — condemnation — can happen at any time and without any cause on the part of the property owner. Because of that, I would hope that the government uses it with great care. Let's say you've got a $50,000 house — at least that's what it would sell for on the open market. If the government wants to run a highway through it, I would hope that is done gingerly and fairly — so for instance, one might request $150,000 to find a suitable replacement home in short order and to cover personal losses and such, but it would typically be unreasonable to request $1,500,000 unless there's some unusual circumstances.

One has to remember, of course, that the will of the government will persevere. Realizing that, it should be as cordial a disruption as possible — the government providing the "scooped-up in the hands of God" kind of move, and the property owners agreeing to reasonable discomfort. In theory, the governmental need for the property is so great that paying more than the current market value is a bargain.

Admittedly I'm talking about someone's home. In the case of Midtown, it's commercial property. Regardless of who owned it — [and with great reluctance *sigh*] even if it's a property holding company — as long as they met the requirements for keeping the property, as far as I'm concerned, they have the right to continue to keep it.

So let me go back to eminent domain once more. My recollection is that it's for things like a highway or a railroad where one property owner blocks completion of a much larger project — for instance, a farmer refusing to sell a mile of access across a 1,000 acre farm, preventing the completion of a 500 mile highway, or at least dramatically increasing the cost and complexity. I gather that historical precedent has changed this view, and indeed a project can target only one property.

In the case of Midtown, the whole project has me thinking of the City government with cartoon dollar-signs in their eyes: it's the City gambling with their revenues as if they were a business. I would much rather have had them support PAETEC's efforts to purchase the property themselves — welcome PAETEC to the table and open up the zoning and permit processes, for instance. As I see it, PAETEC has no risk — the City now owns Midtown and PAETEC can set up their world headquarters wherever they please. This is the same perfect-storm situation as the Fast Ferry: the City removed risks to encourage economic development, and caused irreconcilable bad business decision to be made in the artificial safe-harbor.

But I would also like assurance that the property owners have been justly compensated — by definition of the property owners. I guess this will come to be known in the coming months, as the press release says, "the parties affected by the condemnation will have six months to file claims for additional compensation that they believe are not resolved by the condemnation and relocation payments". We shall see.

Making and Taking at Make and Take

Ali and I went to Make and Take Gourmet (1475 E. Henrietta Road) to make a few do-it-yourself take-home-and-cook meals. I had set up an event with the MEETinROCHESTERMySpace link and 5 of them came as well. We had a great time — a few people brought some wine so we had a ball drinking and cooking. I made the "Inside-out Bacon Cheeseburgers with Green Onion Mayo" and Ali made the "Sautéed Chicken in Dijon-Cream Sauce". When I was all done, I had 3 burgers with cheese and bacon inside in a foil pan along with a green onion mayonnaise in a zip-lock bag. The really amazing thing was that it only took 10 minutes to prepare the whole thing — it's so easy when someone else has prepared all the ingredients.

Afterward we were naturally hungry so we ended up going out to The Tap and Mallet (381 Gregory St.) for what actually turned out to be a rather light dinner. I had their "Sliders" which are mini-burgers: one beef, one bean, and one spicy chicken — all excellent.

Excitement at the Ontario County Tax Foreclosure Land Auction

Ali and I went to the Ontario County Real Property Tax Foreclosure Land Auction at The Ontario County Safety Training Facility (2914 County Road 48, Canandaigua) hosted by The Reynolds Auction Company. We were not planning to buy anything, we just to see how things get run.

We considered Lot #4 as we looked at it last week. It's located just south of where Routes 32 and 64 meet in Bristol. According to Google's new terrain maps, the property is located about a half-mile east of the valley and 320 feet higher into the surrounding hills with the first 1000 feet of road at a 20% grade. Ali's poor Saturn SL-2 barely made it up (and the transmission's "2" setting didn't even come close to helping on the way down).

The property was listed with an assessed value of $27,500. In an information session last week that I attended, someone asked about that particular property's assessment, commenting that they own land nearby and they thought the assessment was wrong — I assumed they meant "too high". With that in mind, I was a little worried that it would actually sell for something approaching what we could afford — a couple thousand dollars, perhaps — because we didn't even bother to register.

Well this one was particularly unusual. Ali knew the County Treasurer Gary Baxter from her days working in Canandaigua and when we chatted with him earlier, he menionted that there seemed to be a lot of people interested in this particular lot. Well I had no idea — I guessed they'd attempt to start bidding around $9,000 (then they work down until they get a bid) and it would sell for something like $12,000. Ali was worried it would sell for much less — after all, we looked at it and it's hard to get to (i.e. 4-wheel-drive-access only) and the A-frame structure was in need of a fair amount of repairs, but it would indeed be a nice secluded spot to get away to on occasion. In the end it went for $37,500 — percentage-wise the largest amount over the assessed value of any of the properties we stayed to see. I sure hope those people like it.

We stayed through 14 of the properties and noted that the later you stay, the more people leave so in the future, I'd consider bidding on one of the later properties on the list. After that we had a nice dinner at Eric's Office Restaurant (2574 Macedon Rd., Canandaigua). We hadn't been there in a while and it was a bit late; food preparation time was a bit slow for us personally but the quality was quite good. I thought the French Onion soup wasn't as good as we'd had at Hogan's Hideaway (197 Park Ave.) but Ali liked it more. We split both our meals in half so she had half my portabello sandwich and I, half her cheeseburger. Both were great. Amusingly enough, the auctioneer John T. Reynolds and one of the women he was working with (I forgot her name and don't know their personal relationship) happened to get dinner there too.

Village Idiots Present improvisational comedy

Ali and I had a nice dinner at California Rollin' at Village Gate Square (274 N. Goodman St.) then headed to [location redacted] to see Village Idiots Present (VIP)'s improvisational comedy. It turned out to be their first show so it was a little rough around the edges, but overall it was very funny. The players in the troupe have very varied styles, strengths, and weaknesses and I'm sure this will set them up to have a strong showing in Rochester.

The only thing I didn't really like was that the support staff tended to act too formal — it was like going to Geva except that the structure wasn't backed up with any foundation. For instance, we were instructed to sit toward the front when it really didn't matter as there weren't really any stragglers. And as for the improv, there were a couple times when some ego-based and fear-based "no's" tripped up the performers' stride.

But if you're going to take risks, you're going to sometimes fall big and other times win big.  In this case, it's worth it.

The Make and Take Gourmet Buffet

Ali heard about this new place in Henrietta — Make and Take Gourmet (1475 E. Henrietta Road) — so we went there to check it out for their menu sampling day. Everything was very good and it was nice to get to try everything. The idea is that you assemble a meal (or you can buy it preassembled "to go") and take it home to cook and eat or to freeze for later. It's definitely a niche concept but it seems to make sense: you get to try out a new recipe without the hassle of buying all the ingredients (and having to find an immediate use for the left-over perishables that wouldn't ordinarily get used) and hoping — against all odds — that you got everything you needed.

Make and Take provides a bunch of recipes to choose from each month — in May 2008, there are 16. They have "assembly stations" set up at their location with all the ingredients for one or more of the recipes and you can go there and get all the ingredients ready in a take-out container (that they provide although you can also bring your own). I think you may be able to just walk in, but they prefer that you sign up before you show up so they can make sure to have enough of everything ready-to-go. The recipes are scaled for either 2-3 people or for 4-6 people and one of the perks of making it yourself is that you can add more of what you like and omit anything you hate.

Ali set up an event on May 20 — you can see the details on Tuesday's entry of this JayceLand update.

The Blue Cactus artlessly combines traditional Mexican ingredients

Ali and I thought we'd try The Blue Cactus Mexican Grille (5 Liftbridge Ln. E., Fairport) to see how its "traditional Mexican cuisine" compares.

It was awful.

Well, that's not quite true. It was bland, unsatisfying Mexican food — "traditional" for people who think "traditional" means bland and unsatisfying. The drinks at the bar were adequate but a bit pricey, but the meal was quite expensive and only marginally enjoyable. I ordered the Chile Rellenos: (from the menu) "one stuffed with beef picadillo, the other with a corn medley, [then] oven roasted". I was irritated that the server made a point of saying something like "wow! isn't that a wonderful presentation?" — don't patronize me: I'll make my own decision on whether I think it's attractive or not. The roasting seemed to take all the characteristic flavor out of the chilies, leaving them not quite as flavorful as a roasted bell pepper. The beef picadillo wasn't bad, but the "corn medley" is a poor excuse for dumping corn and other unseasoned soup ingredients into the pepper … er … chile.

The Banana Licuados — a milk-based smoothie which I opted to add oatmeal to ("to make it really authentic!") — was really quite good. Ali and I experimented with our own rendition later. Although the server said the oatmeal was not cooked, I think it should be to allow the oats to dissolve with the milk.