williamallenpepper

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Archive for the month “December, 2011”

My Christmas – Ripped From the Pages of the Best Buy Ad

Does art imitate life? Does life imitate art? I used to wonder. But now I know.

It’s a Christmas miracle.

Turns out my Christmas holiday was a succession of brushes with the literary, the visual arts, and the cinema.  Deck the halls with the Best Buy ad! Fa la la la la, la la la la!

When we took the kids to see Santa, Henry, our two-year-old, wasn’t freaked out unlike his older sister at his age), but he did spend the whole session with arms wrapped around Mommy’s leg, peering at Santa from around her knees. The look could have been copied from a Norman Rockwell calendar photo.

His older sister, Sophie, age 6, on the other hand, declared all the way there how she was going to talk to Santa. She marched right up to Santa and parked herself on his lap, and immediately froze. She couldn’t think of a single thing she wanted. It was a lot like Ralphie clenching up in “A Christmas Story” – “Football? What’s a football?” All that was missing was for Santa to tell Sophie she’d shoot her eye out and send her down the slide in humiliation. (For the record, she didn’t want a Red Ryder BB gun – with or without this thing that tells time. She wanted a big TV. Or maybe that was me.)

This one actually is from my Christmas archives. If you’ve seen the movie “Christmas Vacation”, specifically the scene where Clark Griswold is outside putting up the Christmas lights, you’ve see the spitting imaging of my father putting up Christmas lights every year of my childhood. The snarled strands of lights, the vest, the flannel shirt, ball cap, work gloves, staple gun, extension ladder. It’s ALL there. I always think of him when I watch that movie. I think the producers might owe Dad something for the trademark infringement.

One of the ornaments on our tree is one that Sophie picked a couple years ago. It’s a Disney scene with the various princesses and princes dancing around the castle courtyard. The little figures move when you turn a little crank. Well, this year, Henry, being two and a boy, managed to take Prince Charming off at the knees. He’ll never dance again. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Charlie Brown hanging the ornament on that pathetic little tree. “I’ve killed it!”

Christmas dinner with two children hopped up on holiday cheer and Santa-anticipation was a little like dinner with the Ewing family on the old TV soap “Dallas”. Sophie was “J.R.”, Henry was “Bobby Ewing”, my wife was, I don’t know, Miss Ellie, and I was, um, Hasselhoff from Knight Rider, which was a show I was a lot more into in the ‘80s.

My little boy’s favorite gift from Santa was not the train, the fire engine or the Spiderman action crime headquarters. It was the little pink, toy vacuum cleaner with accessory cart. My little Gollum even napped with his own personal precioussssss on Christmas day.

My wife has been home with the kids on school break for a week now. Munch’s “The Scream” pretty much describes what I see when I come home from my day job every night.

So there it is. I’ve proved life imitates art. Send me some of your own examples. Think of it as a yuletide support group.

Next time on the blog: I prove Bigfoot paints the sky blue.

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FOOD CHAIN – A Short Story by William Allen Pepper

“Who had the chicken?”

“Over here,” the balding, bespectacled guy said as he hung his suit jacket over the back of the chair.

The waitress, petite but skillful, balanced the large tray of lunch platters on one hip and passed the chicken special over. She was grateful today would be a short shift at the outdoor café and she could go back into the air conditioning and put her feet up. She liked being indoors; safe and secure.

“And the vegetarian lasagna?” the waitress asked.

“You’re sure there’s no meat in this?” the curly-haired woman asked. “They messed it up last time.” Her tone wasn’t entirely accusatory; but it was far from friendly.

The waitress’s smile was thin as the layer of sweat on her forehead. “I’m sure.”

“Hey, Cheryl,” the guy in the polo shirt said. “Offer to double the tip if she’ll taste-test it for you.”

The business-class table laughed, even as Cheryl seemed to consider the idea. The waitress smiled through clenched teeth. T-minus forty-eight minutes until she was out of here.

Outside the little gate that separated the café from the sidewalk arose a flurry of activity as pedestrians suddenly became aware of…something. It was a nonspecific awareness at first before sharpening into time-worn, dreadful knowledge. Everyone, even Cheryl and her party, stopped to scan the horizon.

“It’s coming! It’s coming!” an old man in a Grateful Dead shirt out on the street said. A pink-haired girl with an iPod and rocky road ice cream cone shrieked.

Another guy in sneakers and black socks sprinted from around the corner toward the café. “Oy! It got Corrigan. And it’s coming this way!” He didn’t stop running.

The outdoor café burst to life, people pivoting, plates clattering to the floor, all eyes on the street. Waiting, but not moving; not a single hair.

“This way!” the waitress finally called. Then, when no one moved, added, “Move it!” She opened the double doors that lead to the café’s interior and herded everyone inside.

T-minus forty-four minutes.

Why couldn’t this have happened an hour later, the waitress wondered, when she was comfortably in her dwelling?

Inside the café’, the diners barely looked up from grazing on their specials as the outdoor patrons moved suddenly indoors. It was feeding time. What was there to worry about?

The deafening burst of splintering wood and pulverized glass, however, brought everyone to their feet. People sprinted and stumbled over toppled chairs as they huddled into the far corner of the restaurant. The restaurant’s entrance was filled with the black coarse fur and muddy claws on the fist of one of the predators. It didn’t have a name, but the humans didn’t need one. For as long as humans had breathed the air, it, and others like it, had hunted them. It would definitely come without being called, so why name it?

“Shut up!” the waitress hissed. “We’ll be fine.”

The gnarled fingers of the thing grasped blindly at whatever it could reach; the arm inching inside the restaurant up the elbow, overturning tables and plants as it swept along the floor. The excited growls of the thing the arm was attached to shook the building; plaster rained down.

It got the busboy first. He didn’t stand a chance, weighted down by the big tub of dishes. The dishes shattering on the floor almost, but not quite, drowned out the screams. No one else moved.

It was still hungry.

The matted, newly-stained fingers searched the dining area for another victim. A claw poked at Cheryl, smearing her pants suit with human gore, but she managed to compel herself to move just a few inches toward the dessert station and out of reach. The bald guy in glasses, though, wasn’t so lucky.

With admirable, or pathetic, resignation, glasses guy let himself be picked up, whimpering only a little and looking around as if he wasn’t entirely sure what was about to happen even though everyone knew.

“Nom-nom-nom!” said the thing through a mouthful of businessman. Thick eyeglasses clattering to the floor and a spurt of scarlet middle-management blood and it was over. The fist did not make another appearance inside the café. Its hunger, it seemed, was temporarily sated.

After a few moments, the patrons realized the feed was over, heard the thing shuffle away through a sea of noon-time traffic and squealing tires. The survivors here, as they did everywhere else in the neighborhood, resumed their normal lives. Chairs were set upright. A new busboy cleared away the remains of various overturned meals. The departed businessman’s plate was cleared away and his now cast-off jacket was claimed by a survivor. Everyone sat and resumed their lunchtime conversations.

“All veggie. Right?” Cheryl asked.

The waitress smiled gamely. “Yes, just as much as when I said it the first time.”

Cheryl nodded, satisfied for now. The waitress gratefully moved on to another table.

T-minus thirty-six minutes…

Hope you enjoyed your little holiday gift! Feel free to share it with friends, just give me credit for writing it if you do. And keep an eye on this spot…there may be more where this came from!

COULD THE SLOW DEMISE OF MOVIE THEATERS PUT THE LIFE BACK IN LIVE THEATRE?

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a famously unabashed audience participation movie. People love it. They line up for hours to get inside and turn a two-dimensional movie into a living, breathing, night of performance art.

So why do people hate live theatre so much? The people up on stage are right there in front of you, not on a screen in something recorded months or years earlier. And in live theatre, when the play is over, you might even get to shake hands with the actors and tell them how much you liked (or didn’t like) what you just saw. Think Tom Cruise is gonna come out and chat with you when “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is over?

But Tom gets way more press than the latest offering from your regional theatre company. Why? Is it the funny spelling? T-h-e-a-t-R-E instead of T-h-e-a-t-E-R? You want to spell it the other way, fine with me.

In live theatre, you get drama or comedy. Sometimes both mixed together. Shows set in modern day or the past. Music. Sex. Violence. All the same stuff you can get in a film.

And in a play, story is everything. It’s not about the star or the special effects. You can’t always say that about a movie.

And yet, live theatre attendance suffers; on stage, in the audience and behind the scenes. Local theatre groups struggle to find actors to fill the roles in the few plays they can afford to produce and people to help produce them.

Things look bleak for live theatre; has looked awful for years.

And yet, maybe. Just maybe, things are looking up.

For all the shiny packaging – 3D, super-charged CGI, big, good-looking stars and ready-to-film book franchises – people are complaining more and more about the movie theater experience. Ticket prices continue to go up, not to mention concessions. People grouse that the 3-D experience usually doesn’t give you your money’s worth. And people are pushing back.

Maybe movies aren’t quite the must-go destination they used to be.

An AP article I read last week reported that domestic movie revenue the first two weekends in December was the lowest since 2008; $81 million the first weekend and only $77 million the second weekend.

The two weekends after 9/11 had been the worst weekends for ticket sales on record, but even then, 2.5 million more people went to the movies in the US than did so the first two weekends of December this year.

The article went on to say movie revenue in 2011 so far tops out at $9.57 billion, down four percent for the year over 2010, but a seventeen percent drop for the same period in December 2010.

So does this mean the movies are dead? Of course not. It’s obvious why people didn’t go to the movies after 9/11. And clearly, economic turmoil is at least partly to blame for slow sales everywhere. There is a definite trend brewing.

Couldn’t some of that slowdown simply be because people aren’t getting their money’s worth at the box office? There aren’t many of these pricey 3D movies that I’ve seen good reviews for.  Lame sequels and formulaic re-treads just make things worse.

Is there a chance for live theatre to take advantage? Yes. Outside of Broadway, lots of good theatre is cheaper, or at least competitive, with movie tickets.

With blu-ray, huge flat-screens, and even 3-D television systems, people can simulate much of the technical feel of the movie going experience at home. But, of course, there’s more to going to the movies that the gee-whiz on the screen. There’s the joy of sharing story time with your fellow humans. A roomful of laughter makes the funny funnier. A roomful of shock makes the fright more frightening. You can’t get that watching TV alone at home. People will pay for that experience. And if they aren’t finding it at the multi-plex, there’s only one other place they can go.

So listen up, community theatres and regional acting companies. This is your time. Get on Facebook and spread the word. Whenever and wherever you can pay for ads, do it. Hire a sky-writer if you must.

The show must go on. The people demand it.

At least we can hope so.

GOODNIGHT, 2011!

In past years, on the website www.carnivalofglee.com I’ve taken some time at the end of the year to chronicle some of the notable events of the year gone by…just like everyone else does. To help shake things up a little, and because I have young children and am therefore steeped in the literature, my year-in-review is presented in the style of the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon”. Get cozy, children. Nighty-night!

GOODNIGHT, 2011!

(With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

In the year gone by,

There were government budget deals – okay, not really.

And killer cantaloupe

And satellite pictures of…

Earth-like Kepler 22-b

And presidential wannabes marching through Iowa

And two dead terror leaders

And a pair of royals – Kate and Wills!

And a little Muppet action on the big screen

And an NBA lockout

And riots in London and Egypt and Syria

And a quiet old man predicting the world’s end

Goodnight Borders Books

Goodnight Wisconsin (and all) public employees

Goodnight tsunamis, tornadoes, quakes and Charlie Sheen

Goodnight Oprah show

And “All My Children”

Goodnight Steve Jobs

Goodnight Elisabeth Sladen

Goodnight Harry Morgan

And goodnight college scandals

Goodnight European economies

And goodnight “Family Circus” creator Bil Keane

Goodnight BK King

And goodnight Amy Winehouse

Goodnight Liz Taylor

And goodnight Murdoch’s “News of the World”

Goodnight Jack Lalaine

Goodnight Sidney Lumet

And goodnight to the war in Iraq (we hope)

Goodnight Jerry Lewis at MDA

Goodnight Joe Frazier

Goodnight occupiers everywhere

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