Friends Who Live in the Real World

Those among us who indulge a wild passion for some sort of eclectic or specialized pursuit or interest are sometimes confronted with the uncomfortable need to identify a certain friend as either a fellow who shares our own particular passion or a companion with whom we enjoy other activities. For some years, I've referred rather awkwardly to my "Tolkien-friends" and my "regular friends." But now, thanks to my friend Barbara, I have a much better description for those of my friends who don't love fantasy fiction. They are: "Friends Who Live in the Real World."

Real Estate's Woes Spread Throughout Economy

Three recent news stories add additional anecdotal support to my argument that real estate's downturn negatively affects the broader U.S. economy:
  • A real estate brokerage in Phoenix shut down all of its 13 offices. The company's closure put 350 Realtors and 20 other employees out of work.

  • A federal agency forecast that economic growth in Manhattan will slow in 2008 as a result of Wall Street's subprime mortgage crisis. Local business owners now feel a "creeping sense" of uncertainty about the future, according to a newspaper report.

  • Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and other media properties, reported that revenue from real estate classified ads dropped nearly 40 percent year-over-year in the four-week period that ended Nov. 25, 2007.


Three Plagues Attack Los Angeles Home

At the risk of considerable embarassment since this blog is indisputably a public forum, I'm ready to admit on the record that my cozy and usually quite clean house in Los Angeles has suffered both an infestation of fleas and an attack of termites this winter. And now, a pest control inspector has found--horror of horrors!--an actual rat that's living in my attic and tearing up the insulation that covers the heating-ventilation-and-air-conditioning system ducts. I've disposed of the fleas in a massive housecleaning that featured multiple vaccuum runs, eight loans of laundry in one day and a trip to the drycleaners. Now I await the exterminators to deal with the termites and the--ahem--other unmentionable intruder. But I have to wonder: What's next? Frogs? Lice? Boils? Locusts? Writer's block?

A Long-Awaited Announcement: Peter Jackson to Produce Hobbit Movie

Fantasy fandom is in an absolute uproar today over the news that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have resolved their differences over royalties from the three movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" at least to the extent that the studio has tapped the director to act as executive producer of a much-anticipated film adaptation of Tolkien's beloved children's story "The Hobbit" and a second Hobbit-related film, the basis of which isn't clear at this time.
Whatever else happens, the news of the two new films being green-lighted by the studio and of Jackson's involvement is sadly certain to reignite the intense animosity between the hardcore film fans who passionately adore Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" and the equally hardcore book fans who just as passionately abhor Jackson's films.
Those of us who greatly admire both Tolkien's books and Jackson's interpretive films are no doubt in for another onslaught of rotten tomatoes from both sides. I'll be trying to keep my costume, which is a replica of Eowyn's white gown from Jackson's second movie, safely out of the line of fire.

Recommended Fantasies

My recent discoveries in the fantasy realm include two movies, "Enchanted" and "The Golden Compass," both now in theaters, and one television series, "Stargate Atlantis," now on DVD:
  • "Enchanted" is about a fairy tale princess who falls into modern-day New York City. The traditional princess-and-the-prince themes are delightfully updated, yet still faithful to the source material.
  • "The Golden Compass" is the first of Philip Pullman's three-book series about two children on a voyage through a parallel world. The film is marred by a too-fast pace, intrusive score and truncated dialogue, but is still enjoyable and essentially faithful to the original. Nicole Kidman is terrific as the bewitching Mrs. Coulter, and yes, that IS Derek Jacoby as the head of the Magisterium.
  • "Stargate Atlantis" is about a crew of explorers and scientists who find a lost city that was inhabited 10,000 years ago by a philosophically and technologically advanced civilization known as the Ancients. Some of the story lines are too militaristic for the small screen, but the dialogue is clever, the characters are compelling and the universal themes are thoughtfully presented.

Mortgage Bailout is Big Buzz

The Bush Administration's plan to bail out borrowers who can't afford the reset interest rates on their subprime adjustable-rate mortgages has triggered a massive amount of buzz and not just within the Beltway or the mortgage industry. The man on the street, in the person of my friendly neighborhood dry cleaner, was not only aware of the plan yesterday afternoon, but was also quite outspoken about the obvious inequities of artificially low interest rates for people who borrowed money with too little income or an inadequate down payment to handle the risk. "When we went to borrow the money years ago," he declared, "the bank wouldn't even talk to us if we didn't have 20 percent for a down payment!"

News from a N.A.R. #2: Trade Show Gets Old-Hat

The National Association of Realtors' convention trade show has shrunk in square footage from mind-bogglingly gigantic to merely large. That may be a consequence of this year's weak housing markets or a sign that the concept of a trade show itself has become out-moded in the Internet age. The too-bright artificial lighting, junk food and temporary booths complete with cheesy games, chinzy giveaways and always-on-their-toes salespeople seem old-fashioned in comparison with the advances of technology. Yet the show goes on in all its lavish excess. One exception this year was Google, which had only a modest-sized booth in a relatively far-back location. But that modest presence was belied by the mob of Realtors who congregated around the booth.