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Archive for the month “October, 2013”

THE OLD GUY AT THE RESTAURANT

If you’re like me, well, first, let me say how sorry I am for you. Second, if you’re like me, and have young kids, you don’t get out of the house much. Still, on a  recent Saturday night, the family and I found ourselves at one of those local chain restaurants where the music is loud, the wait staff is perky and wears lots of flair and the food is decadently tasty.

The place was loud and busy, but they found us a place “in the quietest part of the restaurant right now” which was a little like saying “your cabin is in the least sinky part of the Titanic.” Still, the service was good, the food was good (I had the salmon. Mmm…grilled salmon), the kid was fairly well-behaved and all was right with the world.

Oh, and I got to hang out in the men’s room with one of the waitresses. But that’s a story for another blog.

Among the crowd of patrons was an old guy of eighty or so sitting at a small, two-person table right next to ours. Alone. He wasn’t obese, but definitely carrying a few extra pounds, which could have contributed to the need for the two ornate canes parked next to his chair. He wore oversized, old man glasses, a black t-shirt, khakis and suspenders. On his head was some sort of cap. I couldn’t catch what the lettering was without staring, but think it might have been some sort of military veteran’s organization.

He already had his food when we were seated. A salad, a half rack of beef ribs and some fries. Parked next to his plate, a tall beer, some sort of ale, mostly untouched. Whenever the twenty-something waitress would come by to check if he needed anything, he would chat her up a bit; not in a flirty, dirty-old-man way, just in a thanks-for-asking sort of way.

He methodically ate all the fries, half the salad, and half the ribs. The beer remained untouched. The waitress came by to ask if he wanted a to-go box. She even asked about a to-go cup for the beer (NOTE TO SELF: THIS IS A THING ?!?!? REMEMBER THAT.) He accepted the box for the food, but declined the cup. “I can’t drink and drive anymore.” But…he put a napkin over the beer and left the table. He left his coat behind, so I assumed he was just in the restroom.

Sure enough, he came back. He paid his bill in cash. The waitress brought him his to-go box and collected the check. She was easily fifty to sixty years younger than him and no doubt had a hundred other things to be doing at that moment, but she stood by patiently while he chatted her up yet again.  He told her about how he’d tried to get his buddy to come out with him that Saturday night. I didn’t quite catch his name, but it was something colloquial like “Stinky” or something. But the friend had declined. “He’s eighty,” the old guy explained to the waitress, “and he doesn’t usually feel too good.” He went on to tell her, proudly, “I don’t either. But today I felt pretty good, so here I am.”

They completed their transaction. The old guy slowly drank half of the very tall beer. No to-go cup today. Whether it was because he wanted to drink it, or because a small prideful part of himself wanted to show the waitress he could do it, I don’t know. Just as well though. (“Can’t drink and drive anymore.”)

Then he left, presumably to go home to whatever life had, or didn’t have, for him there.

Was I totally eves-dropping on this dude? Yep. I’m a writer. Writers do that. (Be warned.) I don’t know this guy. Is he married? Is he widowed? Was he ever married? Is he sick? Just how bad off is his buddy? I’m guessing he’s a veteran of WWII. What’s he done since then? No clue.

I’m picturing a widowed WWII vet who spent the rest of his working years in a factory somewhere, had three kids and some grandkids he doesn’t see nearly enough, retired with a decent, if not extravagant, pension, and spends his time quiet at home with daytime TV trying to cajole Stinky to poke a tentative cane into the world that goes on without them most of the time. Sometimes he’s successful. Most of the time he’s not.

Do I have the right to presume anything about this guy I don’t know? Probably not. On the other hand, if I’m right that he’s a lonely old guy who wants to know he’s still a part of the world, maybe he’d appreciate knowing something spared a thought for him.

That’s fundamentally what we all want in the end, isn’t it?

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LITTERBUG JITTERBUG

Up there, in the title. Those are two words that shouldn’t be used by anyone born after the Great Depression. (Kids, that’s not the name for the period between Bieber sightings)

Still, when the shoe fits…

*sigh*

Blogging is hard.

I get tired. You know? Sometimes it’s too hard to walk all the way over to the computer and put my words in. It’s so tempting to just drop my letters wherever I feel like it. Just leave some jfiriwofj behind the couch. Maybe a line of d e 3 o 8 & ? 2fdopv down the hallway. It’s just easier.

But I don’t.

I don’t because I don’t want to foul up this little Internet environment for others.

Real-worlders, it seems, aren’t always so considerate.

I was strolling through a McDonald’s parking lot recently on the way back to my car after getting coffee. Some dude in a truck opened his car door and tossed out a crumpled cheeto bag.

The trash can was ten feet away.

I know what you’re thinking.

CHEETOS? Mmmmm. Processed cheese food…

I’m a Dorito man myself.

Never mind the bigger fact that if this dude couldn’t see the trash can ten feet away, he probably shouldn’t be driving.

You might also be thinking the fact that a dude was eating Cheetos either immediately before or immediately after dining at a McDonalds goes a long way toward demonstrating why punching extra holes for more belly room in our belts is an American national pastime.

How many times have you walked through a parking lot and seen small effigy mounds dedicated to overconsumption; little monuments of diapers, Monster energy drink cans, and fast-food bags left behind when their thoughtless owners waddled away to befoul some other region of our tiny planet?

Maybe you wouldn’t think of leaving your trash in a parking lot, but I’ll bet you stuff the lime down into your beer bottle, right?

Spit gum out on the sidewalk?

Wash your hands and leave paper towels on the restroom floor?

Et tu, cheeto guy?

That probably doesn’t mean anything.

I’m still irked though.

HOW TO MAKE HALLOWEEN EVEN COOLER

Halloween has been around as an organized holiday for a long time. Back in 1743, Louis St. Halloween carved the first jack o’lantern. He was promptly hanged for Jack’s murder. After that, everyone switched to pumpkins,

Or something like that.

Point is, Halloween is a well-established event steeped in time-honored tradition. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t room for improvement. Here are just a few humble suggestions.

Forget bobbing for apples. That’s so 1940 (or something). Let’s play “apples for Bob.” All you gotta do is find a guy named Bob (there are lots), then pelt him with apples. Good times.

You don’t have to give candy to trick-or-treaters, but if you do, it has to be good. Snickers, good. Necco wafers, not so much. Reese’s peanut butter cups? Awesome. Black licorice? Bogus.

If you choose your candy poorly and some kid eggs your house, you should be entitled to half that kid’s wages. For life.

When exorcising the demons from your home on all hallow’s eve, be sure to offer some parting gifts. Perhaps some mints. Or a nice bottle of brandy.

Belief in The Great Pumpkin should entitle you to tax breaks.

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” should run on TV 24-7 all week-long.

Even if my costume sucks, you WILL say how awesome it is. Oh, yes, you will say how awesome it IS.

If I knock on your door and your treats suck, YOU have to do  a trick for me. And none of that “guess my card” crap. Something good. Make an SUV disappear or something. Even better, make Ted Cruz disappear.

While we’re on the subject of politicians, no political masks. No Hillarys or Obamas, Reagans or Boehners. Our politicians have proven themselves to be caricatures of leaders. They don’t need our help for that.

Happy haunting to all of you.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

Guy walks into a bar. A pudgy dude. Middle aged. Puts on brass knuckles and invites all comers. He ends up getting arrested.

Zing! Pow! That’s hilarious!

This really happened. For no apparent reason (i.e. alcohol, I’m guessing), this guy decided to go pick a fight.

I’ve never understood the desire to beat someone down physically. I understand wanting to win at a game. Do better on an exam. Score higher in Frogger (kids, ask your parents). I even get that circumstances can align so that all you really want to do is punch somebody in the face.

But I’ve never done it. Meanwhile, lots of other people live for the…what?  adrenalin rush? the thrill? the bloodlust? of pummeling another person. Not me.

I’ve had people get in my face. Tell me they didn’t respect me as a human being. There was even the guy at the bar years and years ago who, after I politely and, I thought, jovially, suggested he move on when my friends were growing tired of his lame attempts to hit on them, suggested we step outside. We didn’t though. Other guys would have perhaps leapt up from the table and gone outside to exchange bloody noses.

Not me and my second – my buddy who reluctantly backed me up. We engaged in a careful strategy of keeping things light as possible until the dude, already drunk, got bored and moved on.

A lot of guys wouldn’t have though. Not us. The fact that we would have no doubt gotten our collective asses kicked by this guy no matter how drunk he was doesn’t mitigate the fact this was the right course.

Fighting doesn’t solve anything, especially picking random fights with strangers which, come on, has to stem from some need to fix whatever’s broken inside you by letting someone else beat it out of you.

Not me. Never me.

Not my kids either.

Maybe that’s how we make the world a better place. One kid at a time who uses his wits instead of his brass knuckles.

Man, I’m a wuss.

There should be more of me around.

HOLIDAY BANG BANG!

Santa Claus is comin’ to town. And he’s packin’.

So, I drove by a local gun shop. The big sign out front touted the store’s guns and ammo “Christmas layaway” deals.

Guns for Christmas? Really?

That’s a little like giving somebody a surprise puppy or bunny for Christmas. Sure, it’s cute and fun right out of the box, but then…Rover accidental shoots you in the foot.

Okay, probably not. But buying someone a gun as a gift is a bad idea. A gun is a scary complicated piece of hardware not to be purchased lightly under any circumstances, and especially by someone other than the person who is going to use it.

If someone is legally allowed to have a gun, let them go get it.

*sigh*

I admit that I don’t get the appeal of gun ownership, but I do understand there are many who do. However, linking holiday shopping to a gun purchase just likens it to buying a new watch or iPad or a DVD box set. But buying a gun is different. You aren’t investing in your hobby, you’re buying a tool designed to kill. Whatever your stated reason to own one, that’s what a gun is for; not shooting skeet, not target practice, just for taking lives. A gun isn’t a festive holiday bouquet. It’s a weapon. Show it the respect it deserves, at least.

Ho ho ho.

Falalalala blam blam blam!

WHAT THE FREE HOTEL BREAKFAST BAR IS MISSING

I stayed at a hotel recently that offered “free hot breakfast”. The fare was the normal stuff: corn flakes and rice krispies, fruit slightly past its prime but not so much they couldn’t serve it, the waffle station with the waffle iron that only works half the time and at a quarter of the speed it should, English muffins and bagels, eggs and bacon, both of which were offered in colors other than naturally occurring.

All standard stuff. And, once you get past the fact that a bunch of strangers at various levels of the morning hygiene ritual are pawing through the same warmed-over sausage gravy, decent enough for the free meal.

Still…

Extravagant as the spread was, I couldn’t help but wonder what else the hotel could be offering to make the dining experience just a little more special.

Things like gold-covered plastic utensils. The forks still snap when you stab a sausage link, but the little shower of gold flakes renders your plate of food inedible. The only thing better than free hotel food is being spared from eating free hotel food.

Disposable cones of silence you can put around yourself so that the screaming kid two, tiny tables over and they old dude smacking a mouthful of undercooked blueberry waffle don’t bother you. The cone might also just about mute the sound of the annoying morning news anchor on the TV.

How about jelly packets in extra-large thimble size?

The possibilities are endless, hotel chains. Take notes. And, if you feel so inclined, send me some free soaps or something as a thank you. I could only fit so many in my suitcase when I checked out last time.

 

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

I totally control my wife.

*pauses to listen intently for the wife to fire up her iPad, which is really hard to hear, let me tell you. But important to know. God. So. Important. Nothing. Good. She’s not reading this.*

So, it turns out I can change the course of my wife’s thinking. The other night, in passing, I said something about wanting a cookie dough shake from a local, favorite ice cream shop. It wasn’t a serious idea. it was couched in some witty conversation we were having – neither of us need the calories. In my head, I immediately moved on….

….apparently right into her head

TWO HOURS LATER, she said, “Thanks to you, I’m craving cookie dough shake now.”

The power of suggestion, friends. Fear it.

I tried to fix it. She also said, she was thinking about chicken nuggets, specifically a photo she had just seen. I asked if it was the one of that icky, pink slurry fast food places squish into nugget form . (That would be why I never order nuggets anymore). it was.

“Perfect,” I suggested. “Just imagine a cookie dough slurry shake.”

She wasn’t buying.

“Well, then how about a shake with a chicken foot stocking out of it?” (We were watching a cooking competition where “pre-cooked” – no trained chef worth his salt would stoop to raw chicken feet, friend – chicken feet were a necessary ingredient.)

She wasn’t buying that either.

Apparently, my powers do have limits…

This is disturbing.

I’m not giving up though.

Right now, I’m bearing down, putting all my concentration into willing my wife to let me have a Ping-Pong table. I’m gritting my teeth, straining with every fiber of my intellectual prowess.

I will have a Ping-Pong table.

Or a massive turd.

And now all you’re thinking of is giant turds.

The power of suggestion…

CLUTTERED DESK = PRISTINE WRITING?

image

This is my writing area. Actually this is the tidy version of my writing area. It usually looks far, far worse.

Yes, I do have Daleks and Snoopy on my desk. It’s hard to see, but there’s also a box of Pop Tarts. That’s how I roll.

Yeah, my wife thinks I’m a dork too.

BUT…based on the results of some studies done at University of Minnesota recently, I should be a flippin’ genius-dork.

Much to their own surprise, scientists concluded after some experiments, that working in a cluttered office actually, somehow, enhances creativity, originality and a search for novelty.  The scientists don’t draw any real conclusions other than there’s something about orderliness that kills free thinking.

I have something to say about this. Hang on…

*shoves aside a pile of paper*

*no, the other pile*

*no the other other pile*

*Eww. Is that a ham sandwich?*

Oh, here it is:

Messy offices make you smarter, you say? DUH.

Judging by the typical state of my office, my thinking is running free all over the place; a wild, naked jaybird of ideas with its wang of creative thinking flapping in the novelty breeze.

I’m the guy who owns electronic devices with no less than – what? – a half dozen notepad apps. Yet, I hardly use any of them. Hell, look at my laptop. It’s covered in post-its.

I constantly have scraps of scribbled-on paper in my pockets.

I read somewhere once that some people who tend to pile stuff have their own system of organization. What looks like a jumble to you, is  a filing cabinet to me. Need the Sniggerson Contract? Well, it ‘s right here in the middle of this stack just above the 2008 “Family Circus” calendar and below the “Girls of the Big Ten” pictorial (I SWEAR I don’t know how that got in there.)

I’m pretty sure every office in the Congressional office building is neat as a pin. Not a lot of original thinking going on there.

Great, topical jokes like that are what a messy office will do for you. Thanks, University of Minnesota!

TIME TRAVEL IN FILM: LOOPER AND THE TIME MACHINE

I realized something late last night.

No, not that you can, in a pinch, use Welch’s grape juice as a mixer with bourbon, which is true (though it’s best sipped with a crazy straw)

What I actually realized is that as huge and ubiquitous bedrock of the science fiction genre that the time travel story is, there really aren’t that many movies about it.

I don’t mean time travel like, guy from the past mysteriously wakes up in the future (or vice versa) and finds his dog or lunch or girl or something. I mean time travel with somebody climbing into a time machine, moving back and forth in time on purpose, maybe losing the time machine and getting it back, and long, ponderous meditations on what it means to muck about in time.

Other than the Back to the Future trilogy, I can think of exactly two:

Looper

The Time Machine

Sure, Terminator sent Schwarzenegger back in time to wipe out John Connor and change the future. And sci-fi action films have done that kind of thing. But traveling through time is a vehicle to tell an action story. Those movies aren’t really about time travel as a thing in itself. Looper and a The Time Machine are.

Quick summary:

The Time Machine is a 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1895 novel “The Time Machine” directed by George Pal and staring Rod Taylor. The movie opens on January 5, 1900 when inventor H.G. Wells hobbles into a gathering of his friends, dirty and disheveled. He tells them that he has just returned from the future in a time machine he claimed to have invented at their last dinner party on December 31, 1899. The character Wells is disillusioned with all the violence in the world and longs to see the future where, he is certain, man surely has evolved beyond its brutish ways. His friends scoff, Wells pouts. They leave. Wells climbs into the time machine which travels through time, but not space, and which looks like Captain Picard’s chair on the Enterprise bridge with a “Price is Right” Plinko wheel on the back. Disillusioned by apparent decade after decade of constant war-making, he travels all the way to the year 802,701, which appears to be an idyllic paradise. He quickly, discovers, though, that it is not.

Looper is a 2012 film starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the year 2044, Levitt is a small time hit man who is paid to execute people the mafia sends him – people from the future because it’s easier to cover the crime. Hit men who do this are called loopers. They are highly paid right up until their employer-from-the-future decides to terminate the contract by sending the hit man’s future self back to 2044 to be executed, thereby closing the “loop”. Eventually, the future Levitt (played by Willis) shows up and escapes the hit. Much intense action ensues.

These are very different films. The Time Machine is a very optimistic “there’s hope for mankind” type film. Even when Wells discovers future humans have squandered technology and rejected education, he dedicates himself to showing them a brighter future. There are lots of weighty speeches about the potential of mankind. There’s also a nice bit about the mechanics of time travel, travel in the fourth dimension (one character even asks to be “reminded what the other three dimensions are”.) Wells carefully explains the operation of his time machine in great detail, except entirely glossing over the whole “how does it actually travel in time” thing. The thing looks super cool, though, and the movie is so fun and hopeful that you really don’t care.

Looper, on the other hand is fun in a “this is bleak, gritty, dark shit” kind of way. BUT, unlike other movies that send bad guys from the future to muck up the present – Terminator, Time Cop, that kind of thing – this movie does take some time to ponder wibbly-wobbly nature of time (in the parlance of Doctor Who), the course of our own futures AND pasts, and time-travel is central to the story, not just a mechanism to set up an otherwise standard action movie.

I like these movies. Really like them. I get that, unlike with a lot of sci-fi tropes, the laws of physics pretty much dictate that time travel is impossible. Maybe that’s what makes me like real, straight-up time travel movies so much. “What if?” is never so powerful a question as when it goes up against “that’s impossible.”

That’s entertainment that means something.

WRITERS: WHEN IS YOUR BOOK NO LONGER YOURS?

The estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been freaking out for several years. In the Unite States, Sherlock Holmes is not considered public domain. Based on the dates they published, all of the books are public domain, except one, the last one. The estate says that is sufficient to tie up the copyright for all the Holmes works. Their theory is that the books and stories are not separate, distinct entities. Holmes and Watson were created in the very first story and grew and developed all the way through all the stories. That evolution runs through the public and private domain stuff and you can’t separate the two. Ergo, says the Doyle estate, it should all be copyrighted. Never mind that when that last story came out, 1927, copyright law said the longest time copyright protection could run was fifty-six years.

Disney has been freaking similarly. In 1998, the entertainment industry lobbied for and got Congress to extend copyright protection to all published works by an extra 20 years. The big news at the time was that this bought Disney another twenty years before their mascot, Mickey Mouse, fell into the public domain because the copyright on Mickey’s debut film in “Steamboat Willie” was due to expire.

As a reader and a writer, I’m of two minds about copyright. As a writer who strives (hopes? dreams? pines?) for a steady, paying, writing income, I’m ALL FOR HOLDING ONTO A COPYRIGHT AS LONG AS I CAN. BACK OFF! THAT’S MY KIDS’ INHERITENCE, DAMN YOU!

On the other hand, as a lover of the written word, I’m all for getting those words out there where the most people can access them at the lowest cost. Why should mega-corporations reap profits long after that writer is dead? Why shouldn’t I get a part of that?

Money stuff aside, I’m a little squeamish, as a writer about THE PUBLIC DOMAIN out of fear as to what, exactly, the carnivores out there hiding in the public domain bushes waiting to pounce on and eviscerate my precious work. No wonder the Doyle estate is peeing themselves. They’re scared of the inevitable plot of “Smurfs 3: Elementary, my dear Smurfette”.

On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes is such a great character, just think what some other great writer could do with it. Look at what Stephen Moffat has done with the excellent “Sherlock” series on the BBC, a modern retelling of the Holmes and Watson adventures. If more people could access those characters, the possibilities are limitless.

A lot of it could be crap. A lot of it could be wretchedly offensive. But is that a reason to withhold it?

It’s this last bit that also makes me nervous about when estates commission other authors to write new books in long established series where the original authors have died. They did it with Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books. The Godfather. The James Bond novels too. I haven’t read any of them. They may be great, but I’m scared.

Michael Chabon wrote a novel called “The Final Solution” which is clearly about an elderly, retired Holmes, though he’s never mentioned by name. The character stuff in the book is interesting, but the plot…well, it just isn’t a Holmes novel.

“Star Trek Into Darkness”, the second installment in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise hits all the right character notes. They’ve got Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest nailed. But…the plot just isn’t there.

Ultimately, you can’t beat the original. Of anything. You can imitate. You can copy. But you can never reproduce.

The question is do you have the right to?

And if you do, should you?

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