Sunday, April 30, 2006

Quaint English Garden Couple — Yours for $39.99

While passing through Christchurch, we picked up this nice couple. A good price, really. She’s going to make tea and cookies, while he’s going to tell us what World War II was like.

quaint old people in the conservatory

Other sights from the Christchurch gardens:

flowery flower 1

statue in the light

little pickle cactus patch

hanging pitcher plant

And, finally, a New Zealand paradise duck, which reminds me of kabuki for some reason.

especially colorful duck

(We didn’t actually buy the couple.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I Can’t Enjoy My Tea!

Creepy mannequins lurk in the Christchurch museum.

eerie mannequin man

Or, to describe the situation more accurately, the museum displays the hapless humans that its staff has abducted and transformed into mannequins. Because that is how mannequins are made.

Friday, April 28, 2006

If It's Monday Morning

Now that my big computer is once again internet-enabled, I've got my Last.FM account doing something again. In case you haven't already checked this site out, then do so. It's an excellent way to find new music.
[ link: my Last.FM account ]

Wii All Over Your Face

In case anybody else is interested in further information on the subject of the Wii, I stumbled across the promotional video for the new brand name. I hate the name "Wii" a little less this morning, and I think this video helped.
[ link: get your Wii-ness out of whack ]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Us, Them and "Wii"

I put a lot of stock into names. My name, for example, means “vision” to the Welsh, while to the Hebrew-literate it merely looks like a part of the word for “man” — a old, old word more familiar to Western folk as “Andrew” or the anthro in “anthropology.” But if I had to chose, I’d rather go for the name that means “vision” — whether in the sense of eyesight or the religious kind where angels speak like trumpets and dance on pins — than something that, for etymological purposes, means “part of a man” or “not all of a man.”

Get it?

It’s not that I think names bear this mystical quality that, like the stars a person is born under, somehow direct their life. It’s just that if you name a kid “Biff,” he’s probably not going to grow up to be a florist, though little Neville might. And the kid who gets named “Dot” or “Penny” or “Ann” will have to strive a little bit harder to make an impression as will pretty girls like Gloriosa, Magdalena and Czarina. It’s the difference that one combination of letters makes over another: “Iceland” or “Greenland,” “mist” or “fog,” “feces” and “shit.”

In a similar manner, I tend to pay close attention to brand names. When botanists created the fur-less, yellow-fleshed variety of kiwi fruit — an invention that makes all of our lives better, whether you realize it or not — a team of advertising exec versed in linguistics had to think hard about what brand name they could call this new fruit. The name, as I remember reading in a newspaper article about the fruit, had to sound the same in every language and couldn’t mean anything bad. They eventually dubbed the fruit “zespri,” a name that connotes freshness and sprightliness to English-speakers, while still looking exotic enough to make the product it’s attached to seem special. “Zespi” is one manufactured brand name that I personally find satisfying.

It should be no secret to those who know me that I still play video games, and, as a result, still keep an idea on the market. Now that I approach the subject as an adult, however, I have begun to notice just how tricky the video game market can be. Nintendo, for example, has been my stand-by video game company since I first started playing. My brother got an NES for Christmas when I was six, and since then my family has always been a Nintendo family. The NES, then the Super NES, then the Nintendo 64, all the way to the Gamecube I got during my sophomore year of college. These, as well as every permutation of the Game Boy, have made this Japanese company an integral part of my American childhood. Just like Catholicism, Disney, California agriculture, “The Simpsons” and representative democracy, Nintendo is one of these non-human yet completely omnipresent institutions of my life that has helped shape me into me. I couldn’t begin to explain how, but I just know that all that time spent sitting in front of those machines had to affect me somehow. It had to.

Anyway, these two beliefs of mine — the power of names and the fact that Nintendo is somehow, for some reason, important — intersected today when I was flipping through Google News and saw an item about Nintendo’s new console system, the competition for the Xbox 360, the upcoming Playstation 3. Up until recently, Nintendo had been code-naming the project “The Revolution,” much in the manner that the company once called the Nintendo 64 the “Ultra 64” and the Gamecube “Project Dolphin.”

The chosen name for the new system: “Wii.” That’s right. And it’s pronounced like “we” — or like “wee” or “wee-wee” or “weak” or “wiener” “or “weenie.” Apparently, Nintendo chose the name, according to a release on the official website, in order to create a sense of unity among gamers. Since the units will be connected through a wireless network, this seems like it might work. Even written out, the name looks like “wi-fi.” However, written out, the name also looks like a typo, notes Michael Goodman, an analyst for the Yankee Group that this article quoted. Goodman also notes that an integral flaw to Nintendo’s pattern of naming is that each successive new system has no real relation to the previous one, whereas the Xbox and Playstation follow-ups sound more like sequels to the previous versions.

It’s sad to defame a company that I’ve tried to stick by — even in the face of legitimate claims that the Nintendo has a kiddy image. It does, indeed — and calling its new system the “wee” isn’t going to shake that. In a market based on cutting-edge technology, companies should put a little more effort into developing the name that invokes senses of power, fun and innovation, not short-stature. “Zespri” it ain’t.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is Woody Allen / Is Not Woody Allen

Because the stretch of the 101 that separates Santa Barbara from Los Angeles and its hipper environs apparently runs long enough to warrant a lack of good movies in Santa Barbara, I saw Woody Allen’s newest, “Match Point,” for the first time only last night, Be forewarned: I have opinions about it, and many of them hinge on significant, shocking plot points that you’re better off not reading about if you haven’t seen the movie. I’m not sure I liked the movie all that much; however, critics have been doing backflips for it and saying it may be Allen’s best since “Annie Hall.” Thus, there’s a chance that if you see it, you may like it.

So if you’d rather catch this movie on your own, stop reading now.

As I’m sure many reviews have noted, there’s very little about Woody Allen’s “Match Point” that earns the adjective “Woody Allen.” “Annie Hall” is quintessential Woody Allen. “Hannah and Her Sisters,” too. And to me, whenever I hear Woody Allen’s name I think of “Mighty Aphrodite,” the first of his films I ever saw.

“Match Point” is not at all Woody Allen. It’s more like the Coen Brothers, if anybody. It’s sleek and cold and logical and calculating. It’s not funny. It’s not New York. And, most notably, it’s not at all neurotic. What seems like it could easily start as a comedy of manners or a rom-com clone of his earlier works eventually evolves into a rather unexpected thriller. And for that, Woody Allen should be credited. I would have never thought that Woody Allen had it in him to make a movie like this, especially so far into his career, so far into already having made a name for himself.

But while everybody else seems to love the movie, I have a huge problem with it. I don’t buy it. I can’t.

The plot, for those of you who read the spoiler warning and proceeded ahead anyway, involves a man in a seeming paradox. The main character, Chris (Jonathan Rhys Myers, a posing mannequin on good days) is married to a wealthy, attractive Londoner, Chloe (Emily Mortimer, who you may remember playing the Neve Campbell clone from “Scream 3”). However, he’s been having an affair with Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), a would-be actress from Colorado who formerly was engaged to Chloe’s brother. When Nola becomes pregnant and demands that he dump his wife — and, thus, his comfortable lifestyle — Chris murders her in a way that makes it appear that she died in a botched burglary.

To me, Chris’s solution to the dilemma was rash, impulsive and overdramatic. No one in his situation would chose murder over adultery, no matter how high the stakes were. (And yes, one could argue that because “Match Point” has major Greek drama themes, much like “Mighty Aphrodite” did, that characters in “Match Point” act in the rash, impulsive and overdramatic manner traditional of Greek tragedy, in which the only two solutions to any given problem are murder or suicide. It’s a valid point, but I’ve always maintained that people in Greek tragedies act hormone-addled teenagers, with everything being the end of the world and all that. Antigone, sadly, is no anomaly. And, sadly, I’ve never really bought the emotional extremes people fly to in Greek drama, either. But that’s another argument. My point, as far as “Match Point” is concerned is that this kind of life-or-death, do-or-die mentality is even more out of place in a modern setting.) Had Chris not murdered Nola, he could have simply divorced Chloe and continued the relationship with Nola. He may have been less happy, but his life would have been far from terrible. He may have even been able to find a similar job to the investment banker one Chloe’s father had hooked him up with.

I suppose, also, that if Chris and Nola had shared this steamy, riveting passion — the kind of affair that could actually drive people to murder — I may have believed Chris’s decision a little more. But whereas most of the film’s dialogue seemed good — polished, but in a realistic way, as you’d expect from wealthy upper-class Londoners — the exchanges between flirting Chris and Nola fell really flat. The dialogue sounded stilted, like it was improvised by nervous junior high students at their first boy-girl dance. “Your lips look luscious,” he tells Nola. (Or it was something equally vapid.) Eventually, they two bone, but to me it felt more like they did so simply because they were bored of talking to each other.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

Because I didn’t seem like Chris was acting plausibly, I couldn’t buy him as a person. If he’s supposed to be a sociopath, then I can’t relate to him. If I can’t relate to Chris, then there’s no one else to relate to in the movie since all the other characters are underwritten. And if the last third of the movie consists of Chris telling lies upon lies — to Chloe, to the police, to himself — then I can only sit there, cringing as he digs himself more and more deeply into shit. It’s embarrassing to watch someone else lie like that, especially when I feel they’re covering up a murder in the shoddiest way possible.

That aside, two other point struck me about the film.

There’s a nasty, xenophobic reading of this movie. Like I said before, fairly little in this Woody Allen movie is all that Woody Allen. Unless I had read his name in the opening credits, I would have thought that some snobbish Briton had directed it, as the movie offers a depiction of the London upper-class threatened by outsiders like Nola, an American, or Chris, and Irishman.

Let me explain: Chloe and her family are well off and very happy, if oblivious to actual work and the woes of the world around them. Then you meet Chris, then Nola. Chris has pulled up his life from the nothing of poor Ireland by being a hard-working tennis player. He worms into the upper class, only to show his roots by committing murder, just to maintain his new high standing in London society. Nola also comes from humble beginnings, but she moves to London for a chance at acting. In contrast to the demure, na├»ve Chloe, Nola is this brash, blond, busty thing that screams like a madwoman when she finally realized that Chris will never leave his wife for her. She even goes as far as to use her pregnancy to blackmail Chris. In short, manners can’t be taught. They can only be bred into you. And for the purposes of “Match Point,” they can only be bred into you in the wealthier suburbs of London.

Secondly, the plot of this film ratchets up Woody Allen’s creepo factor to eleven. There’s a conceit among writers that anything a written is a little bit autobiographical, a little representative of what’s inside the writer. Aside form his films, the part of Woody Allen most widely known to the world is his affair with his adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, while Allen was married to Mia Farrow. This situation can easily be mapped onto the characters in “Match Point,” with Allen as the protagonist, Farrow being the well-off wife and Previn being the object of lust that threatens to pull the marriage apart. Woody and Soon-Yi ended up a bit better off, of course, but if I were Soon-Yi I’d be just a little cautious around the Woodster. (Go Ka-nicks.)

Oh, and Nola’s last name is “Rice.” Really, Woody? Yuck.

In the end, I guess “Match Point” gave me something to think about, even if I ultimately decided that I didn’t like it. It’s well-acted and beautifully shot. All in all, it’s far from terrible. I didn’t like it, though, and I suppose my griping could be more of a matter of me missing out on the fun everyone seems to be deriving from this movie. Maybe I should go watch “Annie Hall” again.

(And while I’m at it, a footnote about spoilers: Personally, I don’t mind too much when film plots are spoiled for me. The people who let knowledge of a significant plot event ruin a film for them must admit that they’re watching movies only at a superficial level — that is, riding the rising and falling action of the plot arch like a roller coaster ride, without stopping to appreciate the multitude of other factors that make a movie worth watching, like dialogue, acting, cinematography and all that. If you want the thrill of a shocking twist of the plot, watch a soap opera. I’d hope those watching something like “Match Point,” however — a film one might describe as “intelligent,” “provocative,” “stuffy” and “really, really British” — to appreciate that people have worked very hard to make other factors just as significant as the plot.)

Paloma Blanca

As of today, all of my vacation photos are uploaded to my Flickr account and all of them with proper context. So now you can know which koala I'm looking at and which botanical garden I'm strolling through.

Points of interest:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Three-Hundred Sixty-Five Degrees

Also spotted in Queenstown: some less-than-inspiring emergency directions.

emergency exit instructions

As if the directions didn’t sound complicated enough already, them being scrawled on the sign in marker certainly didn’t help the situation. Had there have been a fire, we sure would have all perished.

Monday, April 24, 2006

“There Is No Duty on Our Opal”

Spotted in Queenstown:

opal duty

I’m sure they are aware of how it would read. I still wouldn’t buy my opals there. Or, I mean, anywhere. But certainly not the opal emporium whose awnings have a poop joke printed on them.

Look at This, Look at That

Not to jump back into my old ways too quickly, but here is something worth your attention: a live-action version of the opening credits to "The Simpsons" — and one that's quite well-done, too. Do look. And enjoy.

Bananafish and the Sea Robin

Okay, so I know.

I’ve been in California for more than a week, and during this time my blog has sat here, unattended by its keeper and only experiencing a surge in traffic because people have been suddenly able to locate this one provocative picture of indie chanteuse Neko Case on Google image search that I posted some time back. (They don’t remain on the site long.) I guess I had to take a break from posting at this blog because for the past six weeks, it serves as a travel diary and a way for me to keep in touch with people I knew back at home. However, once I set foot again in my homeland, the blog seemed temporarily irrelevant and in need of a reinvention — or at least a quick change back to its form before I left: a web log, or a log of the silly and inconsequential things I do and find on the web.

But here’s the problem. In light of the subjects of recent posts — surviving the terrors of the sea and hugging kangaroos, for example — the little things that would have been post-worthy two months ago seemed too trite to mention. It’s a bit of dilemma, you see. After a few days of deliberation, I’ve decided that the best way to continue the life of the Back of the Cereal Box would be to make one more NZ/OZ-related post to cap off the whole trip and close the book on this vacation portion of my life.

Thus, I give you the definitive post for all manner of tidbits related to the big NZ/OZ.

My ten most-played songs, according to iTunes:
  1. The Features - "The Idea of Growing Old”
  2. A-Ha - "The Sun Always Shines on TV”
  3. The Clash - "Lost in the Supermarket"
  4. Nada Surf - “Indochine”
  5. Teenage Fanclub - “Cells”
  6. Gorillaz - “Dare”
  7. Scissor Sisters - “Laura”
  8. Stephen Malkmus - “Kindling for the Master”
  9. Father Bingo - “Ginger Prince Is Not Shirley Temple”
  10. Aimee Mann - “Pavlov’s Bell”
And, as a contrast, my ten most-played songs before I left, according to an earlier post:
  1. Scissor Sisters - "Laura"
  2. The Bravery - "Hot Pursuit"
  3. Stephen Malkmus - "Kindling for the Master"
  4. Gorillaz - "Dirty Harry"
  5. Yaz - "Situation"
  6. Beck - "Bad Cartridge"
  7. Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra - "Some Velvet Morning"
  8. Soviet - "Candy Girl"
  9. Scissor Sisters - "The Skins"
  10. Electric Six - "Danger! High Voltage"
Songs that I, for better or worse, will now always associate with Australia and New Zealand:
  • “My Humps,” by the Black Eyed Peas
  • “In the Summertime,” by Mungo Jerry
  • “Wonderwall,” by any one with a guitar, apparently
  • “By the Devil (I Was Tempted),” by Blue Mink
  • “Knock Three Times,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
  • “Hooked on a Feeling,” by Blue Swede
  • “Groove Is in the Heart,” by Deee-Lite, technically, but for the purposes of this list by the Kransky Sisters
  • “Pop Muzik,” by M, but in the same manner by the Kransky Sisters
  • "The Grapefruit Song," by Allen and Grier
Strange, Down Under-specific animals I saw while I was gone:
  • Kangaroos
  • Wallabies
  • PademelonsA single platypus
  • Three or four echidnas
  • Three kiwi birds, plus one kiwi hatchlingMany, many koalas
  • A quoll, which is not to be confused with the koalas
  • A single cassowary
  • a Maori wrasse
  • The most horrifying spider I’ve ever seen
  • My first-ever confirmed cockroach
  • Dingos
  • A wombat named Wilhelmina
  • A tree kangaroo
  • A joey — or at least the arm of one, grasping for life from within his mother’s womb
Animals I did not see, though I have ample proof that they were there:
  • Bedbugs
Animals people asked me to bring back as a present:
  • A duck-billed platypus (for Josh)


  • A sloth (for Sanam, even though I don’t think sloths live in Australia or New Zealand)


  • A sloth bear (for Hasan, even though I don’t think sloth bears live Down Under, either)


  • A wallaby (for Kat)


  • A kangaroo (for April)


  • Not a sloth (for Nate)

[definitely not a sloth ]

  • And for Spencer, the long-promised and long-awaited Wooliam


Here you go, guys. Enjoy.

Animal I was most impressed with:
Animal I was least impressed with:
  • The bedbugs
Strange animals I ate while I was gone:
  • Kangaroo
  • Crocodile
  • Emu (in burger form)
  • Many types of strange shellfish, some not readily identifiable
Strange British-ish ice cream flavors (ice-cream flavours) I tasted:
Strange and amusing place names we drove by or through:
(North Island, New Zealand)
    • Ramarama
    • Tapapa
    • Whakapapa
    • Meanee
    • Mangateretere
    • Waipawa (Don’t say it out loud, you racist.)
(South Island, New Zealand)
    • Hinds
    • Geraldine Flat (who I think I may have gone to high school with)
    • Beautiful Valley
    • Middle Valley (neighbor of Beautiful Valley)
    • Cricklewood
    • Twizel
    • Omarama
    • Bendigo
    • Lower Shotover
    • The Forks
    • Inchbonnie
(Sydney to Blue Mountains area, Australia)
    • Parramatta
    • Blacktown
    • Emu Plains
    • Lapstone (Think about it.)
    • Blaxland
    • Warrimoo
    • Bullaburra
    • Katoomba
    • Zig Zag
(Around the Whitsundays, Australia)
    • Proserpine
    • Bird Island
    • Black Island
    • Dent Island
    • Dumbell Island
    • Dungarra Island
    • Esk Island
    • Fitzalan Island
    • Long Island
    • Lupton Island
    • Perserverance Island
    • Plum Pudding Island
    • Titan Island
    • Wirrainbela Island
(On the drive from Townsville to Carins, Australia)
    • Magnetic Island
    • Frosty Mango (not an actual town, but marked on the map as if it were)
    • Paronella Park
    • Mareemba
    • Mossman (Batman’s long-forgotten archenemy
An amusing place name we did not, sadly, go by:
  • Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu
Places I did not see, regardless of what geography challenged travelmates may have thought:
  • Austria
Ten best things:
  1. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef
  2. Bungee jumping at the K Bridge
  3. Hugging the kangaroo
  4. Seeing cousins being more grown-up than I remember them being
  5. Actually seeing things at the Sydney Opera House
  6. Ankle-deep sand at Whitehaven Beach
  7. Larry’s cat, Rat Baby
  8. One word: “Zorb”
  9. The stormy night on the Pacific Star
  10. Mud bath at Hell’s Gate in Rotorua
(The aforementioned, traffic-drawing picture, by the way, features Ms. Case wearing an especially sheer blouse through which you can see her breasts and nipples. The picture initially appeared as part of the doozy here-are-some-things-that-I-like post from last summer, “To Quote Wally Exactly.” So you too can appreciate Neko Case’s nipples, I’m reposting the picture here.


So now you know. But I’d advise you to seek out her music instead, as her singing voice is even nicer than her nipples.)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I Did What I Did for Maria

No real theme here, but some worthwhile snapshots nonetheless. This is us between Rotorua and Waipukurau. But why do I even give context when your eyes have already drifted down from the text to the photos below?

fantail falls

burnt-out old car 2

kristen driving at sunset

sunset in napier

large ape climbing over a building

And to close off this mismatch, here’s a park fountain that looks like a birthday cake.

birthday cake fountain

This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Peabirds

Another thing New Zealand had was peacocks — specifically in parking lots. And I’m not too proud to admit that they were as entertaining as anything they paid to see.

peacock 1

peacock 2

peacock chick

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This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Snapshots from the End of the World

The appropriately named Hell’s Gate offered us scenic beauty, if you take “scenic beauty” to meat sulfur-scorched earth the likes of which you’d normal expect to see in a scifi movie.

hell's gate 1

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hell's gate 2

hell's rock formations

cracked mud

See? If we had been in a video game, I would have said we would been coming up on the last boss. But that’s not to say that the people who try to market this netherworld-on-earth don’t have a sense of humor about it.

sign at hell's gate

In the below image, I have to call attention to the fact that that no trespassers was spared the wrath of the boiling mud, not even the parent and child who dared to stray from the path.

morbid warning sign

Mud says “blorp.”

blurp

And trees grow upside-down, apparently.

upside-down tree

NOTE: This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More Wool Than a Norsewear Fashion Show

The highlights of our trip to the Agrodome in Rotorua, all of which are sheep-related.

i am a dorset

i am a merino

dogs riding sheep!

drooling sheepdog

dina and her soulmate

cute, bundled sheep

Clearly, I saved the best for last.

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No wait, this one is the best, because he can appreciate good photography.

This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Metal Appreciation 101 (Non-Musical Sense)

This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

And then there are worthwhile things that tourists do, like gawking at the corrugated metal weirdness that is Tirau.

giant dog in tirau

the metal shepherd

two girls, one giant metal sheep

I’ll say one thing about the good people of Tirau: They really like their corrugated metal. Like, really. Bonus points for the non-metal tongue hanging out of the dog’s mouth.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mr. Tarlton’s Mild Ride

This is a backdated post that I wrote in 2010. After putting up the photos from my 2010 trip to New Zealand, I realize that I’d neglected to put up any photos from my 2006 trip. So now I’m putting them up, for posterity’s sake, or something. Enjoy.

Yes, we were sucka tourists and went to Kelly Tarlton’s. I suppose it wouldn’t have seemed like such a tourist trap had KrisDina and I not grown up in Northern California and therefore had ready access to the Monterey Bar Aquarium. But we did and all other places to view underwater life were basically spoiled as a result. Nontheless, some pictures:

A pufferfish says hello.

(profile) attempt at pufferfish 2

A male seahorse nearly collapses under the weight of the babies his wife tricked him into carrying.

pregant male sea horse

A notable advantage that Kelly Tarlton’s has over the aquarium in Monterey, of course, is that the former has penguins. Actually, Monterey may have them to, but seeing them waddling around in a simulation of their natural frosty habitat was fun. PENGUINS!

hug the penguin

look at the penguin

mas penguinos!

The same day as Kelly Tarlton’s, we went out to seafood in the Viaduct Basin. And though it was good, we were a little surprised and confused to find a tiny crab hitchhiking in one of our mussels. We did eat the mussel. We did not eat the crab.

tiny crab

tiny crab, again

The pincher, pinched.

pincher, pinched

In general, I prefer my shellfish edibles to come one-to-a-shell.