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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Mister Fancy Pants Barbecue Sauce Man

My brother pulls up in the driveway, doing the divorced-guy thing now, popping by Uncle Tom’s house for a barbecue, his pretty little girls strapped away in the CRV, looking at me through the glare of the windows with their big Chalfant eyes.

Two thoughts right off the bat: It looks like a couple of owls in there judging me from their car seats, and second, I’ll bet that setup is better than a puppy at the park, as far as the ladies are concerned.

He’s got a manly black diaper bag, like maybe modern biker dads carry, without the spikes. I unleash my own screeching children to get the rest of the stuff out of there, babies included.  Two of my girls are Red Cross Certified Babysitters; they’ll probably invoice me for this at the end of the month.

Dave comes in like anyone caring for a baby and a five year-old – with a truckload of colorful stuff and a sigh of relief.  The living room is alive with kids and dogs and a baby and a cat – watch your step.

Dave says something like, “Check this out.” And he produces from his pile of parenting apparatus a grocery bag with two slab of ribs in it.

“Looks good,” I tell him. “But I already got another slab in the fridge and a thing of pork chops.”

Poor planning has led to too much pork.  It’s a pretty good problem to have.  Time to show my vegetarian wife the meaning of the word “disgusting,” and eat it all anyway.

Some noise in the other room. We stick our heads in there and count the girls – one, two, three, four, five.  Cool.

Then Dave wants to know what the “barbecue sauce situation looks like.”

I show him the bottle of barbecue sauce that I purchased at the store.  According to the label, it’s super good down home barbecue sauce.

And he says nothing, just nods a bit sadly, and takes it from me, and tosses it on the counter. Doesn’t put it down, doesn’t put it back in the pantry, just tosses it to the side, kind of making a big show out of it.

Then he starts taking bowls and ingredients out of the cupboards while I frown at the back of his shirt for a little while.

Marilyn comes in and says some stuff, and I agree to it, whatever it is, and then she’s gone again, out in the garden with a hose and a beer.  I wonder what that was all about? That sounded important.

Then Dave starts asking for specific things – brown sugar?  I’m sure we have brown sugar let me get you a Red Cross Certified Babysitter to find it for us.

It turns out Dave is making his own barbecue sauce, and he’s being sort of a jerk about it, too.  Some kind of barbecue sauce connoisseur, evidently.

“Bottled barbecue sauce,” he explains, his tone theatrically patient. “Is mostly corn syrup dyed brown with a chemical in it that makes your brain think of barbecue sauce.”

“Mmmm. Barbecue sauce.”

He makes the Marge Simpson noise, getting a little impatient over there, kind of clinking the bowls together and stirring things too hard.  Here’s a guy cooks his eggs until they’re Styrofoam, but he’s borderline offended by my bottled barbecue sauce.

So I go over and taste it right out of the saucepan, and oh. I see. Sorry about that, Dave.

That’s some pretty good barbecue sauce.  If he wants to tell me the recipe I’ll link to it right here, but he might want to keep it a secret, and he might also not have any idea what the recipe is.  He had kind of a mad scientist look when he was throwing it together.

Man, that’s a lot of pork. The girls will eat the pork chops, no problem, but only Chrissy will eat a few ribs. That means two racks and some change Dave and I to split – it doesn’t seem possible with the corn on the cob and the asparagus and whatever else is going on in the kitchen, some kind of rice casserole.

But it’s all about whether you bend to reality or reality bends to you.

Eating pork ribs until you can’t see anymore is just a state of mind. You have to focus, Trinity – you can make it.

Yes, I’m afraid it gets rather ugly as Marilyn detects that we intend to sit there slow cooking ribs all night long, and eating them as they come off the coals in rounds, like a succulent, down-home version of Row Your Boat with pork instead of words.  You heard me.

My wife goes through several stages in terms of dealing with the amount of pork we intend to eat.  First is old-fashioned denial – there’s no way you two jackasses can eat that much pork, and there’s no way you’d even try so who cares?  That sort of thing.

But we’re dead serious, and when she detects that, she enters the Bartering phase, makes a few attempts at negotiating a deal whereby she puts some of the ribs in the freezer.  That’s quitter talk, we tell her.

Then she decides she’s amused by it. That maybe counts as a relatively short stage, followed by what can only be labeled the Revulsion stage – you guys are really going to eat all that pork and you’re gross and I’m going to bed.

It’s a matter of pride and self-respect now. You will believe two brothers can eat a horrific amount of ribs.  When you do that, it turns out you feel full for several days. Like an anaconda which has swallowed an actual pig.

But I’m willing to hand it to Mister Fancy Pants Barbecue Sauce Man.  He’s coming over here tomorrow and I wanted to publicly admit that his Fancy Pants Barbecue Sauce is extra tasty, and will he pretty please make more barbecue sauce when he gets here?

I have various ingredients in the cupboards, whatever the hell one makes barbecue sauce out of, and there is a store conveniently located on the way to my house, where Mister Fancy Pants Barbecue Sauce Man could pick up more ingredients with which to make Fancy Pants Barbecue Sauce.

Do I have enough pork ribs? Don’t be ridiculous, I have a lot of them, but can you ever really have enough of them?

I say no.  My wife says, eww, you’re gross.  The debate rages on.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2010 in Spawn of Future Tom

 

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It’s Pretty Gross To Be A Dad

Not just because we get old and bald and creepy and fat – sure, that’s gross, but that’s not what I mean.

The gross part of being a Dad starts right at the beginning, at the miracle of childbirth.  It’s one graphically messy, mind-blowing explosion of excreted fluids you didn’t even know existed.  Yup, it’s beautiful and spiritual and all that, too – settle down, I know.

But what a lot of people don’t tell you, and certainly something no one told me, is that right after the joyful, soul-invigorating glimpse into the majesty of God’s Own Creation Etc., there’s a lot of cleaning up to do.  Worse than the Ladies Room at closing time, in a south campus bar.  And you’re standing there without an epidural to make you smile at it.  And because you haven’t spent the last ten hours in unimaginable agony, it’s not like anyone really cares if you’re smiling or not.

They also don’t tell you about the placenta – it comes out after the precious Miracle Baby emerges with the meaning of your very life in her little hands.  The placenta looks like a good-sized eggplant, except it’s more gray than purple, and it has a sallow length of umbilical cord hanging off of it. 

They go ahead and plop that in a nearby pan.  Nothing miraculous about that, sir – that’s just kind of your daughter’s egg shell there.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to name it.

I’m pretty sure that the reason you get baptized into fatherhood with a super spiritual scene from Aliens is that gross things are coming your way on a pretty regular basis now. 

At this point, perhaps some moms in the blogosphere might be interested in pointing out how gross their lives are, too.  And mommies, this is just going to blow your minds, but here’s the problem – I’m not talking about you right now.

I know, it doesn’t even make sense.  You’re Johnny Carson and Daddy is Ed McMahon, I gotcha. 

Maybe it’s even true – maybe it’s a lot more gross to be a mom.  But you can quit ringing the bell, because it isn’t a race.  I just have no idea what it’s like to be a mom, so I’m not going to blog about it.

Damn it, get off my back, you aren’t even in the room and I’m not even finished writing this, and chances are, I don’t even know you.  How are you even in my skull, doing that?

Anyway, I’ll tell you about gross.  Back when we lived in our big country pad, we had a swimming pool.  Way out in the country, pools attract frogs, and then it kills them.  You have to remove their little bodies from the filter at the beginning of the season.

I was headed out past the pool to do something fatherly, I don’t know what, and I hadn’t checked the filter for dead frogs yet, because we had only recently uncovered the pool.  It’s when you open the pool and put chemicals in it that the pool starts killing frogs.  Until then, it’s a pond, and frogs love it.

Kind of mean, now that I think about it.

Ah, but someone had thought of it.  Someone had gotten in there with a net and removed the generous supply of dead frogs stored in there.  And did they, you might wonder, bury them, or burn them, or even throw them into the forest?

No.  They strategically piled them nearby on the concrete, for me to step on.  Barefoot. 

For therapeutic reasons, I’m going to come out and say that again.  My name is Tom Chalfant, and one night I stepped in a pile of six or seven dead, bloated frogs.

I mean it was dark, and I stepped square in the middle of them, and it seemed like maybe I’d stepped on a plate of pasta salad somebody had left out there.  Cold, slimy, things poking between my toes which upon inspection turned out to not be noodles, but instead little frog hands and feet.

You can’t unstep on a pile of dead frogs – there’s no point freaking out about it.  You just pick up your foot, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  And then you go about the soul-enriching experience of cleaning up the dead frogs yourself.

Because you’ll just drive yourself batshit crazy, going inside and asking who piled dead frogs out by the pool – none of them did, that’s who.  And they’ll tell you that like it’s not only astonishing, but good news!  They’re all innocent and the dead frogs stacked themselves!  Yaaaaaaayyy!!!!

I could probably put together a fifteen minute montage set to wacky, banjo-and-violin music, of me getting puked on by children or dogs or cats or ostriches.  Who needs a bucket when you got old Tommy C over here?

The preferred method of puking on me is to do so while I am sound asleep.  You want to wake me up with your actual vomit stream, and make sure you find a patch of bare skin to do it on, like a cheek or a thigh or a hand.

And if you are the rest of my family, the first thing you should do is ask the organism doing the puking if it’s okay.  Even if it’s a dog you found on the side of the road six hours ago – don’t worry about Dad.  Puke washes off, and the shower’s that-a-way.

To be fair, yes, several of you reading this may have puked on me before I had children.  Nothing to be proud of, you know – I’m not even sure why you would bring that up.    

And you might be thinking, Tom, why do you care, you can’t smell!

Like that’s the only unpleasant thing about vomit.  Let me just get you some nose plugs and the most nervous dog I have, I’ll be right back.

How about a maggot incident?  Ever have a trash can erupt in maggots?  I’ll bet everyone calls mom to handle that, right?

Hmm, the cat bit the head off a bird and then it continued hopping around the back porch for a bit, while little girls shrieked until windows started shattering.  Who should we call to deal with the horrifically squeaking zombie bird? 

Dead cat, dog, hamster, bird, chickens, fish, lizards?  Don’t worry, Dad’s got a heart made of stone and nerves of steel.  Let me just get him a container and some kind of spatula, he’ll be happy to put down his sandwich and take care of it.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2010 in Spawn of Future Tom

 

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The Swarming Commercials Engulf Us

It sure is great that I can fast forward through commercials when I watch a program I recorded, compared to the old days, when all you could do was sit there and get Calgon’s Two Water Softeners clockwork oranged into your head.

You know, they soften wash water so detergents clean better, right?  In hardest water, Calgon gets clothes up to 30% cleaner!

Excuse me a second here, but I’m a little OCD in this department.  Once I start the Calgon commercial…

We need more Calgon!  Ancient Chinese secret, huh?

Here’s a not-so-ancient American secret.  “Up to thirty percent” means “thirty percent or less.”  So Calgon could get your shirt, for instance, zero percent cleaner, and you’d still have a lie-free ad.  They didn’t give us a range.  They didn’t say, twenty to thirty percent cleaner.   They didn’t really say anything at all.

All that’s important is that I watched it, and I can’t unwatch it.

The commercials have been bracing for the digital reality of skipping traditional commercials for years, ever since DVRs first hit the market, just as sure as I’ve been cheering it.  But it’s a bit of a hollow victory, since they’re swarming now, and the television is the least of our concerns.

There are commercials pretty much everywhere you look.  I don’t know if they put them in stalls in the women’s room, but they sure do put them above the urinals. 

Standing there taking a leak, reading about the new Prius or the new flavored vodka or the old, vernerable insurance company which has no intention of paying you if your house gets blown down by a hurricane.

Now they’re right here on Facebook, conveniently sorted to my tastes.  Say, Tom, you like sushi and whiskey and Doctor Who – what do you think about this thing right here?

I think that it’s like Commericials were the queen bee of advertising, and once she died, or once she was terminally injured, the rest of the ads started to swarm, mad with terror.

I was driving along the outer belt today and passed a Sherwin Williams truck.  They’re a paint company, and they had a nice, creepy commerical painted on the side of their truck at driver eye-level, so I’d know all about it.

Their slogan was “Cover the Earth.”  And there was a picture of the earth, our beautiful, round, blue-green marble, and a bucket of Sherwin Williams paint above it, slightly larger than the planet.  The bucket was pouring paint over the entire planet, slopping down toward the equator like a species-threatening, extinction-level tsunami.

I don’t see how you are anything but crazy if you think that the idea of covering the earth with paint is going to produce a positive image in the brain of any human.  Especially since they went ahead and used bright, blood red paint – I’m serious, it was literally dripping off the equator.

Hmmm, what would sum up our company, our mission statement, our goal as a corporation?  Oh, I know – how about a small painting which epitomizes human arrogance, consumer-driven insanity, and a profound lack of respect for nature!

I like it when mortgage companies tell you that they have the best rates.  Well, that’s not quite what they say.  Usually it’s more like, no one has better rates than us.

Yes, and no other battery works better than Energizer, do they?  Of course, they do all work exactly the same.

And they don’t so much as tell you anymore as trick you into looking at their banner ad on the internet, by having a bear dancing to techno music draw your eye.   Or you’re watching Sports Center and suddenly it’s time for the Johnson Mortgage Has Really Low Rates Volleyball Report.  Or they write it in blood on a towel and wrap it around a brick and throw it through your bedroom window.

Commercials come through our computers, our cell phones, our radios, and as if that’s not enough, they are hung up anywhere that anyone is ever likely to point his or her head.  On the bus, on the sides of cars and trucks, in the sky, falling from little parachutes at hockey games, through the mail, on our pizza boxes.

And they are lying to us – make no mistake about it.  The only time they aren’t lying is when they aren’t talking about their products at all, they’re just showing us a thirty second movie of some guys drinking beer or a mom taking care of her kids or a girlfriend finding it hilarious that she just drove around with her boyfriend looking for his sunglasses for three hours and then they were in his hood the whole time.

You know, that’s not the archetypical Girlfriend I’ve experienced in the past.  Not really Wife behavior either.  For that matter, it isn’t Husband or Boyfriend behavior.

No, in general, when someone wastes three hours of your vacation time chasing something that was right next to the base of his skull the whole time, you don’t muse about true love and then for some reason attach that feeling to a certain kind of car.

The swarming ads don’t care about reality.  They care about drilling a lie into the middle of your mind, with a product at its core, like a psychic depth charge. 

You’re so smart and attractive and fun and laid-back and moral and sexy and cool and it makes total sense to go spend a hundred bucks on whatever this thing here is.

One depth charge wouldn’t be a big deal, but our brains get carpet bombed with them on an hourly basis. 

How do we know which of our ideas came from our minds, and which ones were dropped there by the army of digital cockroaches, swarming over us?

And why aren’t we all shrieking in horror at the insectile invasion of our own brains?  You know, these guys talked us all into buying tap water for a buck fifty a bottle, and then throwing the bottle into the Pacific Ocean, and buying another one the next time we wanted a drink.

Sure, I guess you could say I just need to block the ads out, but they’re everywhere, and I’m trying to experience this life.  Blocking out the ads would be like reading a document released by the Freedom of Information Act, where mostly it’s just blacked-out text.

Freedom of Speech also means Freedom to Babble Lies Into My Ears All Day And Night – I feel like I’m rocking back and forth on the floor of a CIA prison sometimes.

Good lord, I’ll buy whatever you guys want – JUST SHUT THE HELL UP FOR A WHILE PRETTY PLEASE!

 

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Occam’s Razor Is Not A Law Of Physics

Conspiracy theories – that’s a really general term.

It’s not like elves or Sasquatches or fish large enough to potentially eat a small human being.

In other words, it makes sense to me if you say that you don’t believe in elves or Bigfoot. You’ve never seen either of them, and no one has ever produced a solid photograph, film, or turd that can clearly and definitely be attributed to either one.

But if you say that you don’t believe in conspiracy theories, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.

Most of them get yanked right out of somebody’s butt, there’s no question about that.  Just check out the front page of the news, think of somebody who might have benefited in any way from any story, and then phrase it in the form of a question.

Did Obama send a black ops team to sabotage the Deepwater well, as part of his agenda to stop offshore drilling?  Or did the industrial-military complex do it as part of an effort to manipulate the commodities market?  Or was it just a big thing that broke and wasn’t supposed to?

That’s a good spot to apply Occam’s Razor, an old phrase in medieval philosophy which was all about the inherent simplicity of explanations.

What you do, according to William of Occam – who didn’t really make up the Razor, he just went around talking about it all the time, and wound up with all the credit – is you try to pick the solution with the fewest assumptions.

For instance, we can see how things already break all the time. Especially big things – no conspiracy needed.

But you know, Occam’s Razor is not a law of physics.  It’s a guideline.  A general rule.  Occasionally, the explanation is unbelievably complicated, riddled with coincidence, and there’s nothing Occam’s Razor can do about it.

For instance. Back in 2001, there was a nut running around Columbus shooting people while they were driving their cars.  The whole city was really on edge for weeks on end, until the cops finally figured out who the guy was – pretty good work on their part, too, if I remember – and they put his face on national television.

The problem was, he figured out they were on to him and fled.  In a shocking example of how easy it still is to disappear in this enormous country of ours, the guy drove straight from Columbus to Las Vegas, where he checked into a hotel.

So a couple of guys were sitting around the casino, and they saw the guy.

They said, that’s him right there. One of them went over to him and gave him a slice of pizza, said here we’re not going to eat this, you want it?

After that he was sure.  He called the Feds at the number they’d seen on the news story with the guy’s picture.  But the Feds were getting a lot of calls, so they didn’t necessarily believe it.  So the guys hit the parking garage, and they found the sniper’s car – his license plate number was on the news story, too.

So they called the Feds again, and ultimately, that call led to the arrest of the sniper.

Then a guy calls in after the story has run for a couple of hours. He says, hey – I’m the guy from the casino to whom they gave a slice of pizza.

So think about that for a minute. In USA Today the next day, they showed the two guys’ pictures next to each other, and they looked a lot alike.  But no, they hadn’t seen the sniper.  They’d seen another guy who looked a lot like him. 

It’s just that when that happened, the sniper by coincidence was in the same casino they were, so they found his car anyway when they went to look for it.

That’s what I’m saying about Occam’s Razor – it’s not a law of physics. What happened there was a lot more complicated than the simplest explanation I can think of. And things like that happen all the time.

But still, there’s a weird trend going on where we identify a story as a “conspiracy theory” and then we reject it out of hand. We roll our eyes at it. As if conspiracy theories are never, ever true, and never have been.

Mind-blowing, since we know that many conspiracy theories are accurate.

Take warrantless wiretapping in the Bush Administration. If I were telling you, man, the government’s tapping our phones man, they aren’t getting warrants, they’re just skipping that step all together and listening in to whatever they want!

See, that’s a conspiracy theory. It’s just that it’s also a news story from this past decade, and it’s also now common knowledge.  So we don’t call it a conspiracy theory anymore – even though that’s what it was before it got on the news.

So let me get this straight – you say that you categorically do not believe in conspiracy theories.  Then I point one out and you say, okay, so there’s one conspiracy, but that’s it.

Say it was Bigfoot. You don’t believe in Sasquatches because you’ve never seen one. Then one walks by and tips his hat at you, spits on your shoe.  Once he’s gone, you’re convinced only that there is a single Sasquatch, and also you’re going to start calling him a new kind of bear.

It doesn’t make sense.

Also, a standard response to the conspiracy guy is that people can’t keep secrets. Yes, go ahead and pick me a up a copy of every classified CIA file then please.  I’d like a rundown of everything the CIA has ever done, the names of every agent, and what they’ve all been doing since 1967.

What’s the problem, I thought the government was too disorganized to keep secrets, that coordinated activity could not physically be kept a secret?  That it was outside human nature to keep secrets – like asking us to fly or lay eggs.

A conspiracy theory is usually crap – that’s what the word theory is about, dudes.  It’s not a New Conspiracy Law.  It’s a theory.  A lot of times, a knucklehead pulled it right out of his butt for the sheer purpose of attracting traffic to his blog, sure.

But sometimes they’re real. Sometimes, a bunch of people got together and decided to do something bad just because it benefited them, and then they all agreed to lie about it.

What, exactly, in human nature makes that so hard to believe?

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag, Uncategorized

 

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Embedded Starcraft Blogging: You Heard Me

It’s been ten years since the Brood Wars, and my shrink just got through convincing me that it was all just a war simulation video game set in space, a game that Shawn and I got unbelievably, shockingly addicted to until we lost all track of reality.

You ever dream a video game? When you do that, it means you were playing it too much.

When I was a kid Atari was enough to keep us glued to the television for eight hours at a stretch. Little blocks shooting smaller blocks at each other – that says something about our feelings toward the real world, doesn’t it?

Starcraft is like playing Risk and Halo at the same time. If you can play it well, then really, you are qualified for a job and that’s where you should be, working.

In fact, in Korea, it is a job. People play Starcraft professionally, in concert halls. Crowds show up and buy tickets to watch them play on giant screens. They have three television stations – STATIONS! – devoted entirely to professional, competitive Starcraft.

What you want to do, Tom, says my shrink, is make a choice for yourself right now. Just decide to take a pass this time, now that Starcraft 2 is out. Choose life over digital crack, that’s what you want to do.

Easy for you to say, Doc. You’ve never lost control over the perimeter during a flanked air strike, watched helplessly while hordes of alien war machines swarmed over your base. You’ve never had to listen to the screams of your men, burning alive or shrieking madly as the Zerg showed up, to do something worse.

You’ve never had to look your wife in the eye when she comes down at seven o’clock in the morning, finds you and Shawn still sitting there with an empty thirty pack assembled on the coffee table beside you, and had to admit that no, you didn’t get any sleep, and yes, it is time to go to work.

But Jim Raynor’s unit isn’t something you just clock out of. He’s right there on the front lines, and when he pulls your ticket, you got to show up. It’s not about your shrink or your wife or your kids or your sanity, not about being productive or career-minded.

Which one of these pills makes you forget about the real world and believe the simulation again? The blue pill?

Okay yeah, give me three of those and a Diet Coke, please.

When my boots hit the deck on the Hyperion this time around, I have a bad feeling. I wander the ship for a few minutes, feeling the fingerprints of Shawn’s command all over everything. He’s a hyper-efficient leader – if you have time to lean, you have time to clean. One thing drives Shawn crazy is when he looks up and finds his guys standing around.

One of the grunts outside the Bridge doesn’t know me. He runs my tags and gives me a snort.

“Embedded blogger? What in the Sam Hill is an embedded blogger?”

Not the kind of question you want to even try answering; just get the hell out of my way, Johnson.

“You’re not a blogger! You’re a killer!”

“Okay, buddy, just settle down.”

I’ve done my share of killing. If Shawn’s signature is efficiency, mine was always a cold-blooded detachment – these aren’t your pals, they’re not your friends. They’re your men, and they know what they signed up for.

Shawn’ll spend a half an hour trying to save three guys after a raid – risking a whole fleet of combat and transport ships, trying to pluck them from behind enemy lines.

I’m more likely to wait until they’re cornered by half the Zerg army, and then drop a nuke on them. That might be why I’m the embedded blogger, and Shawn’s in charge this time.

When I step onto the Bridge, he’s got a Protoss Commander on the screen. We’re in orbit around the planet Haven, where Zerg activities have drawn their attention.

The Zerg are like the aliens from the movies with Sigourney Weaver, and their spores detected on the planet mean the same thing they’d mean on screen.

Right now I’m inclined to agree with the Protoss Commander when it comes to Zerg infestations in human colonies – the only cure is purification by fire.

But the pretty scientist girl from the lab has some pals down there on the surface of Haven, and she’s giving Shawn the puppy dog eyes. Please don’t let them incinerate my friends, she implores. I just know I’ll be able to find a cure in time!

I know the situation – I’ve seen this sort of thing before. When the Zerg take over a colony, it’s all tentacles and slime and creepy voices. Pretty soon everyone’s walking around with their eyes glowing yellow, spitting venom at you and chanting about the Overmind.

I’ve never seen anyone get cured of a Zerg infestation, unless getting blown up by me or Shawn really is a cure.

Sure, but tell the girl with the puppy dog eyes you’re going with the Protoss Commander on this one, and then try getting anything done for the next month. You’ll never hear the fracking end of it.

The Protoss Commander doesn’t like to hear “No” either, but he’s in orbit and the pretty scientist girl is right here. You want to fight with him for a couple of hours, or listen to her cry about her dipshit buddies all month?

I don’t think my shrink is going to like it, and I’m sure that the blogosphere’s going to like it even less, but I owe it to Shawn – if he’s putting the old unit back together, I can’t just leave him hanging. 

Our methods might not have agreed with each other, but our genetics do, and the last time the Zerg came after humanity, the only thing that stopped them was the two of us, working together.

Shawn says, “What do you think, TC? The pretty girl or the Protoss Commander?”

I sit down at tactical with a grunt, and take pull from my flask, then pass it on over.

“That’s not even a choice,” I tell him. “Let’s get this over with.”

“You got any ideas?”

“Plenty of ‘em. You got any nukes?”

Shawn tells the Protoss Commander to go screw, and doesn’t look at me as he takes a pull on the flask.  He says, “May God have mercy on our souls.”

I look at the screen and mutter, “I don’t think God’s got anything to do with it.”

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Unintentional Hilarity In Old Movies (I)

A government guy and a doctor are having a conversation in the original 50’s version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, about the man who has come from the flying saucer to warn humanity about the dangers of nuclear war. 

The doctor says that the man appears to be in perfect health, but that something’s not quite right.  The government guy says, oh yeah, how’s that?

Well, the doctor goes on, how old do you think the flying saucer guy is?

Oh, I don’t know, around thirty-five?

Yes, that’s what he looks like, says the doctor, but what if I told you that he claims to be in his eighties?

That just blows their minds for a second, and the doctor reaches into his pockets for something as the government guy muses, “How on earth is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” the doctor replies, breaking off a cigarette from the pack in his hand.  He gives one to the government guy and lights it, and then lights one up for himself, without a hint of intentional irony.

“I guess,” the doctor muses, around the cigarette in his mouth, “that their scientific and medical technology must be that much more advanced than our own.”

Put Leslie Nielson in that scene with the exact same mannerisms, and it’s pure hilarity.  It’s just that they didn’t know they were being hilarious. 

Like Reefer Madness.  They showed that on Turner Classic movies a while back, and there was a guy high on reefer, driving his Edsel like a madman. 

“Slow down!  You’re going to get someone killed!”  Someone screams at him.  Then they cut to the speedometer, the needle rising past forty. 

She’s right, too – he kills a guy ten seconds later, the stoner.

That’s the flip side of the pace issue I talked about yesterday – the way old movies unwittingly ridicule themselves.

Watch Escape From New York, for instance.  One of my favorite movies ever, no question.  I love the blue screen effects, the hilarious outfits, the smoky, sneering dialogue.  The big cobra tattoo.

But one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prison commander’s comically enormous phone.  He picks it up at some point toward the end of the movie and it’s like a prop in a Saturday Night Live skit.  The phone is about the size of a pay phone from the same era, ripped out of a phone booth and held up to the guy’s ear.

That’s the future, said the prophet John Carpenter.  Our cities will be our prisons, our outlaws will be our heroes, and our telephones will be gargantuan devices the size of bar stools, useful for phone calls and nothing else.

Even 2001: A Space Odyssey, maybe one of the smartest movies ever made, but really, guys.  How many times do I have to tell you, if you’re going to build a super computer with a mind of its own, you need to simplify the Off switch, in case it goes nuts.  There should be one button, big enough to hit with a tennis ball from across the room.

Actually, there should be buttons like that all over the place.

When DVDs first came out, they were few and far between.  Blockbuster had a single row of them – the whole rest of the store still VHS tapes.  Boggles the mind, seems like yesterday.  Anyway, that meant only about ten kids’ movies when Ellen was around three, so when I went in one day, I saw that Benji: The Hunted had come out on DVD.

So I got it and went home and stuck it in the computer and said there you go sweetheart, you’re going to love this.  Benji’s a cute dog, solves mysteries or something.

I was in and out of the room for the next hour, and then at one point I walked in and there was some guy in a long overcoat talking to the boy who owned Benji. 

“Wow, so you’re really a spy?”  The boy asked in awe.

“That’s right,” said the spy.  I don’t know how Benji and the boy ran afoul of spies, it’s just the kind of stuff Benji gets mixed up in, is all.

“I’ll bet you’re really tough,” the boy said.

“Well, I don’t have to be,” said the spy, unholstering a pistol for the boy to examine.  “Cause I got this.”

“Wow!” said the boy. 

You don’t see that too much anymore, except in Kick Ass.  No, when Spielberg went to digitize (or whatever he did) E.T. after twenty years, he went into the scene where the boys fly their bikes over the government agents, and he digitally removed the agents’ guns, put cell phones in there instead.

That was right around when kids started shooting up their high schools, so I’m not even going to say it was a bad thing.  Like the cookie monster – I know it sucks that he doesn’t crank down as many cookies anymore, but seriously.  The folks running Sesame Street are doing so for educational purposes, not to maintain their street cred among adults and not to feed my nostalgia.  Guns and cookie benders – bad, not wholesome.

But unintentionally hilarious, looking back.
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Inception, Flash Gordon and Me
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Addicted To Die Hard
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Bacon, Vodka, and Reviewing Movies I Haven’t Seen
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The Curse of Future Tom

 

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Addicted to Die Hard

The pace in movies is like the old analogy of the frog sitting in a pan of water.  The first time I saw it was in Bob Roberts about twenty years ago, but I’ve seen it a dozen times since, recycled whenever someone wants to make a point about gradual change.

If you drop the frog in boiling water, the frog gets understandably very upset.  It tries to jump out of the water.  But if you put the frog in the water at room temperature, and then slowly increase the temperature, the frog boils alive, oblivious.

I’ve never tried that, and I don’t know why anyone would.  If you’re going to eat the frog, for crying out loud give it a quick killin’ first.  And if you’re not going to eat it, then quit screwing around with it and let it go.  Who boils a frog for the hell of it?

All of this occurred to me last night while I decided that a fun thing to do would be to get on Netflix and make it show me an episode of the old Doctor Who from the seventies, with Tom Baker – the tall, frizzy-haired, bug-eyed guy.  It occurred to me while I was watching the show because there was plenty of time to think.

I remember the show only vaguely; it was on PBS and not very often.  Also, it was a bit over my head, and anyway, you couldn’t record things very easily back then.  You had to be sitting there and watching them when they came on, run into the bathroom or kitchen during commercials.

Me and the entire population of the U.K. love the new version of Doctor Who.  In London they play it on the side of a building like it’s a college football game or something, and I’m pretty sure the last guy to play the Doctor got to meet the Queen. 

You don’t have to know anything about the show, I’ll just tell you – the episode I watched from the seventies last night was a two-hour special, and not very much happened.  Not very much at all.

A couple of mush-mouthed lighthouse watchmen took up the first fifteen minutes or so, their accents so thick I tried to turn on subtitles.  Then the Doctor showed up with his lady friend, and they walked around the fog asking questions for about an hour.  Once in a while, a glowing ball outside would float around for a minute, and they’d all spend a very long time asking each other what it might be.

I didn’t catch the end.  That’s the kind of thing I’m going to have to watch in pieces. 

They had a different idea about exciting back then.  Not a lot to work with in terms of visual effects.  Just seeing everyone walk around on a dark set, and then occasionally seeing what looked like a black velvet oil painting of a lighthouse at night, with a light bulb sticking through it at the top, a sound like a fog horn – that was enough.

These days the Doctor is flamboyant and full of energy.  Baker’s Doctor keeps his hands in his pockets a lot, and seldom smiles, and appears decidedly stoned.  Not a big shock, but a far cry from today’s version, who might be on something, but certainly not marijuana. 

There was a Robert Redford movie from about 1974 called Three Days of the Condor.  Now, since it’s based on a novel entitled Seven Days of the Condor, we might guess that the idea was, let’s pick up the pace on this thing.  And it was in fact billed as a thriller at the time.

Go on back and try watching it now.  I mean, Robert Redford’s dreamy, sure, I get that.  But it’s like just seeing people on the screen doing something – anything – that was exciting at the time.  Those people aren’t really here and they aren’t really doing that.

That was enough. 

When is the last time you watched the car chase scene from Chinatown?  It might be blasphemy, but it seems like a bit of a snooze to me.  That’s because Die Hard was like a bit of free crack the movie industry gave me back in the day.  Now it takes a lot of stuff blowing up to excite me. 

Die Hard was really the first wall-to-wall action flick I can think of, and I’ve been spoiled by modern editing and camera work ever since.  It’s not enough that some guys are trying to kill the protagonist.  I need an army of guys trying to kill him, and it has to be because he’s trying to stop them from blowing up something ginormous, and I’d prefer it if he stopped them by blowing up several other smaller things, and then by blowing up the ginormous thing anyway.

I’ve seen practically every major landmark you can think of explode in a mushroom cloud of fire and two-by-fours, just as a comically fit action star dives out of it.  I don’t know what you have to do to excite me now, but I just got out of Inception the other day – which by everyone’s account is action-packed throughout – and I though, eh. 

Little slow.

Just like every other aspect of modern life, technology is speeding up our fiction, too.  Look at James Patterson and his two hundred-chaptered books.  Short chapters make a novel fly along, let’s get this thing moving.

As a writer attending seminars and conferences, I hear the same piece of advice all over the place.  These days, you get three sentences to hook your reader, unless they’ve already set out to buy your book.  They have to pick it up, read for ten seconds, and be immediately engaged, or into the pile you go.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing – just art imitating life.  Impulse buys make the world go around.

But I sort of envy the gang from the seventies, sitting around with their lava lamps and elaborate collars, enthralled by actors in costumes, putting on stage plays in a box.

Not because I wasn’t bored last night, watching the shows they watched back then, just because I wish that I could slow down, too.

 

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