Monthly Archives: July 2008

actually, i AM just happy to see you

7/31/08

One thing I can be thankful for is that we live in the Era of Grown Men Wearing Shorts. Loving shorts – like hating Dook or being an unabashed liberal – was something I was told I’d “grow out of”, but like those other examples, my dedication has only increased. Yes, perhaps it’s another example of how I’m white, but I don’t care: simply put, there are very few places in the world cold enough for me to put on a fucking pair of pants.

Not wishing to be disrespectful, I always wear long pants to every event north of a business meeting, and I never wear sandals because they gross me out, but I just don’t understand why any guy in their right mind would wear real pants if they didn’t have to. As luck would have it, we live in an era when nobody gives a shit, as opposed to the 1940s, when you would have been captured by some G-men and force-fed red meat and asbestos.

So I was reading Men’s Vogue the other day – a magazine that employs some of my friends – and they had an article on men’s shorts. Cool, I thought, and flipped to the pictures, and was instantly paralyzed by paroxysms of Stupid Feeling. These guys were all tucking in their shirts, and the shorts were ending mid-thigh. Men’s Vogue, in what way is this either vogue or for men?

Then a story comes out in the New York Times yesterday about the same thing – the recent uptick in fashionable men’s shorts, complete with a slideshow… of some of THE WORST GODDAMN SHORTS I’VE EVER SEEN ON GUYS IN MY FRICKIN’ LIFE. And that’s saying something, since I grew up in Eastern Iowa and the Outer Banks.

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Gentlemen, the Word came down from on high, and the Word was “Thou shalt wear short pants past the knee.” Hell, I’ve even experimented with culottes a time or two, shorts that almost came down to the ankle, but I’ve come to understand the basic rule: there’s a sweet spot just below your patella that marks the territory between “junky hipster who’s trying too hard” and “total asshole gonad.”

I have never touted myself as your go-to guy for high-end men’s couture, but apart from my hair, I’m no fashion disaster either. Seems to me this is in the right area for men’s shorts:

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Super short shorts on guys are so reprehensible that I laugh every time I see Thomas Lennon on “Reno 911”. Likewise, I cry every time I see evidence of my own O.P. shorts from the mid-80s. We’ve been given this era of Guys Wearing Shorts, so let’s treat it with respect. I know it’s cool for designers to push the envelope, and god knows it’s cute to see the New York Times try to fathom what actual Americans are wearing, but the world revolves around one kernel of truth: deep down, nobody wants to see your balls.

rumblefish

7/30/08

My friends, let me present to you Figure 1-a below, The Perfect Earthquake:

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Fig. 1-a

Yes, The Perfect Earthquake. How rare is an event like this? Let me put it in stark terms: in all other national emergencies, tragedies, tidal waves, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, floods – and other Acts of God – people end up dying. Homes are destroyed, lives are shattered, flags fly at half-mast.

This earthquake was one of the strongest to hit an urban area in more than a decade. Everyone who lives between San Diego and Las Vegas felt it, and those of us in Los Angeles got knocked around our rooms. It made headlines on international news stations, and it gave everyone in Hollywood two days of awesome story-swapping. Tons of video followed. And yet, for all this, the only casualties were thousands of bottles of crappy liquor.

This, fair readers, is how natural disasters are meant to be done. Forest fires? Mudslides? Avalanches? Military coups? Fuck that. All national emergencies should look to the Chino Hills Earthquake as a way to disaster the correct way: a very high “awesome”, “cool”, “bizarre” and “exciting” rating, with extremely low “bummer” scores.

As for us, Tessa and I were talking on the couch when the whole house turned to rubber. We live on the beach in an old Craftsman from the ’20s, all wood with no right angles (at least not anymore) and the place did the hula for about ten seconds. The house performed with aplomb, never shaking, just swirling around like an egg yolk in a bowl.

We stood in the front doorway watching the porch swing shimmy, and then Tessa (whose nickname on the middle school bus was “Ralph” due to her motion sickness) had to go outside to find her internal horizon so she wouldn’t barf. After a minute, the temblor waves came to an end.

Then we called Lucy’s gymnastic class about three miles away to see how things were: the lady who answered the phone said everything was fine, even though you could hear a hundred budding gymnasts squealing with excitement behind her.

Again, to reiterate: Tsunamis bad, “Chino Hills Earthquake of 2008” good. Hope that clears things up.

mom, if you were in a german Scheiße video

7/29/08

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Since I’m in the mindset of communal theater and all its possible glory, let me offer up My Top 5 Movie Theater Experiences:

1. Pulp Fiction – October 1994, Varsity Theatre, Chapel Hill, NC

Obviously, it’s easy to make fun of Tarantino now, but in the mid-’90s, fresh off “Reservoir Dogs”, my friends were psyched beyond psyched to see this. The Varsity, then run by Jim Steele, had olive-oil-popped popcorn and real butter, and was one of the few establishments that seemed to harken back to Chapel Hill as it might have been during the first two World Wars.

“Pulp Fiction” captured our dialogue perfectly, even as everyone’s brains were blown to bits – and when John Travolta stabs Uma Thurman in the heart with the adrenaline needle, the roof went off the theater. People were splayed out on the rows, unable to believe what they’d seen. We talked about it for weeks. It was a totally awesome event, in a time when such events were scarce indeed.

2. Silence of the Lambs – February 1991, Ram Triple, Chapel Hill, NC

Any of you who still remember the Ram Triple as it was in the late ’80s/early ’90s are probably still trying to get calcified butter off your shoes – simply put, this was the nastiest theater north of porn. Somehow culling the worst movies in then-current release, the screens were often torn down the middle (and hurriedly stitched up, like sails during a Napoleonic sea battle) and the film reels would unspool halfway through each movie.

NONE of this was true, however, the night “Silence of the Lambs” opened. Half the town crammed into one of the Ram Triple’s three theaters, and we sat, every seat taken, hot and still – but we didn’t care. This was one of those public experiences when a hundred people thought as one. At the end, when “Buffalo Bill” knocks out the lights, dons infrared goggles and reaches out to touch Clarice Starling, every single human being shrieked.

My future wife? Sitting a few rows ahead of me.

3. Swiss Family Robinson – Summer 1974 – Lindale Plaza, Cedar Rapids IA

This Disney classic had it all: a violent storm that shipwrecks a family, the coolest treehouse ever built, a hot androgynous chick that shows up out of nowhere, and a huge fight with marauding pirates. My favorite? When the ingenious Swiss Family Robinson Daddo makes a trap that unleashes hundreds of tree trunks rolling on top of the pirates.

My brother Steve took me to this, the first movie I ever remember seeing. He remarked how the tree trunks all looked like styrofoam, and I thought, “maybe, but I don’t care!”

4. Blade Runner – June 1982 – Military Circle, Norfolk VA

Go and check the fourth row of Theater 2 at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk, and you will find my seat. My nails bent the actual metal dividers as I watched the last fifteen minutes of this film, and decided I might want to tell stories for a living.

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5. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut – June 1999 – Mann’s (Grauman’s) Chinese Theater, Hollywood CA

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. My brother’s marriage had disintegrated, my reasons for moving to Los Angeles had evaporated into a haze of humiliation, our house had become a sleaze den where strangers did blow on our coffee table and chicks peed in the trash cans. What could possible save us?

Sean, Michelle, Seth, and a number of friends and I all went to the first weekend of “South Park” at the famed Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., and for two hours, everything lifted. I started laughing from the first frame and never stopped. By the time Cartman sang the “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” song, I was actually lying in the aisle, unable to function from laughing so hard. The entire theater was apoplectic.

This movie has given us so much, but nothing quite as important as the introduction of “SUCK MY BALLS” into our everyday lexicon. “South Park”, you provided the best movie experience of the last decade, exactly when we needed it the most. And for this, I genuflect and give you a low, humble bow.

How about y’all?

we like ’em jung

7/28/08

Fascinating bit of news from the weekend: fancy techniques and nuclear-launch-code-type secrecy kept “The Dark Knight” out of the hands of internet pirates for 38 hours after the movie’s release, which is considered a huge success for Warner Brothers. Apparently they staggered the release of the film’s reels to theaters, so that the entire movie was never in one place for long. They also got infrared goggles for movie theater owners in Australia (where the film opened two days before the US) so camcorders could be spotted.

It all seems like shoveling snow in a blizzard, but it’s proof that if you have a big enough shovel, you can do anything temporarily. The first copy of “The Dark Knight” available on a decent file-sharing site didn’t appear until two whole days after the premiere.

If you look at the endless credits of a huge blockbuster like this one, you can see every possible weak link in the chain. Hell, if you really wanted to see a film a month or two before schedule, you could find out which movie-trailer house was making the previews, bribe a mid-level PA, and get a rough edit all to yourself. Far simpler, I’d think, is to befriend some manager at a googleplex in Fayetteville NC, have a private screening of “The Dark Knight” at 3am with a camcorder, then split the proceeds on the black market.

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Movie studios aren’t worried about a bootleg copy robbing them of opening-weekend revenue; they’re worried that the small, mean-spirited, froth-mouthed fanboys who download the movie two weeks early will start a negative word-of-mouth campaign. That’s the sort of rumor that eventually filters up the food chain to you and me, and translates into millions of lost revenue.

Of course, the unspoken admission here is this: the studios know the movie sucks, they just want to get as much money out of it before YOU know it sucks. Even box office bombs can make 3/4ths of their money back before the audience knows they’ve been had, and if you factor in overseas sales, notoriously shitty movies turn a tidy profit.

There are a lot of experiences no longer available to most of the American public: drive-in theaters, high diving boards, public hangings and worry-free sun exposure. Lately there’s been much grousing that the movie theater itself will be extinct. I could be wrong, certainly, but the reason most American habits disappear is because they can be replicated more conveniently – and there is simply nothing available to the American consumer that can replicate seeing a movie like “The Dark Knight” on a giant screen.

But there’s something even more important. Going to a movie with strangers offers a Shared Experience with Unpredictable Company, meaning, simply, that you’re opting to share a cultural event with hundreds of other people you’ve never met. By not knowing who they are, you have placed yourself – subconsciously – into the collective mindset of your culture.

You can’t do it at home – you know when your friends or family are going to laugh, how they react, and you possess an innate safety that lessens any possible magic. You’re also “timeshifting”, or watching your entertainment whenever the hell you want, thus handicapping its emotional importance. At the theater, all of you are experiencing something in real time, it took effort to get there, and the fact that your row is populated with strangers makes a huge difference.

There are times when I can’t be fucking bothered, and I really do just want to download a movie like “The Wackness” or “Hancock” and to hell with America’s collective entertainment unconscious. And god knows I have friends, two in particular, who are positively allergic to paying for entertainment, choosing instead to game the system at every possible turn. They’d rather spend 18 hours downloading a shitty dub of “Pineapple Express” than 2 hours watching it.

But if there’s anything to remember from this era, when strangers still went to the movies together, it’s this: transcendence and magic only reveal themselves to those who dared venture out of their comfort zone.

ISBN 978-0345404473

7/27/08

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above: Steve’s 11th birthday in 1969 (with me as 2-year-old); below: Steve’s 50th birthday w/me and Lucy on Thursday

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Today’s blog will be a shout-out and General Appreciation thread for my brother Steve, who turned 50 over the weekend and decided to spend it with us here in Venice. I should mention that Steve not only told me to start blogging in the year 2000, but he maintains this site despite having an 18-hour-day job as one of the code geniuses at über-hip dot-com Digg.

I’ll also mention that he got me those water-pressure rockets for my ninth birthday – the kind you fill with water from the hose, pump it until it hurts, then shoot it into the air. We had all three rockets, and they lasted about twenty minutes until all three landed in the rain gutter on the very top of our neighbor’s house. But it was a kick-ass twenty minutes.

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And finally, I’ll mention that Steve is one of Lucy’s favorite people in the world, and every time he visits (or even told that he might visit), she glows with excitement. Yesterday, I walked into her room, and what were they doing? Yep, typing the ISBN number of her books into Google and seeing the book appear on the screen. That’s the thing about Steve – we always accused him of having a gruff demeanor and a well-curated pessimism, but as long as I’ve been alive, he’s always known just what a kid wants.

pavlov salivates

7/24/08

They say testosterone peaks twice in both males and females: at age 3 and age 13. Don’t we all know it.

As such, we’re instituting a Good Behavior Board (a la Kazdin and others) where our li’l Lulubeans will earn her way to organic fruit-sweetened lollipops via these positive behaviors:

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From top to bottom, they are: taking a good nap/quiet time, bathing without filling the toilet full of Mommy’s conditioner, brushing hair without wailing about life’s injustices, brushing teeth without running outside to make sure lemons are still on the trees, sleeping all night without coming into our bedroom telling us “I’m not scared, but the bed is”, and finally, Just Being Totally Awesome.

A tall order, sure, but have you ever had those organic lollipops? They’re so much better than Tootsie Pops. Why was everyone so eager to fill us full of corn syrup and Polysorbate 60 in the late seventies?

drop your weapons, you are surrounded by ARMED BASTARDS

7/23/08

Alright, enough grousing. Time for recommendations: Tessa and I are knee-deep in the 2nd season of Life on Mars, the hit BBC drama about a cop who is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. This show not only hits my sweet spot of kinda-time-travel and philosophical mysteries, but it’s SO GODDAMN FUNNY and if you remember the 1970s at all, it’s perfectly spot-on.

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last season’s billboard ad in London, done in 1973 style with old logos

Hollywood (ABC in particular) is remaking the show for an American audience, but they botched the pilot and now they’re re-shooting every scene, presumably with replaced actors and a different script. If you were at this year’s Jartacular, you’d know why.

But let the Americans take care of themselves. If you can get a “Life on Mars” DVD from Amazon, do it, even though it’s expensive. It’s a “Region 2” disc, meaning it’ll only play on your computer (which you can hook up to your TV in “mirror” mode) but it’s worth it.

And now: your suggestions? Know of any awesome mini-series, or other TV on DVD you recommend whole-heartedly?

shush

7/22/08

Two events happen when you get it, and neither can be accurately described. The first is the excruciating pain combined with overwhelming nausea, as if your guts are collapsing in on themselves like a star system, only to explode and rip you apart. When I was a little, I had a piano teacher who had to suspend lessons for months, because, as my mom said, “his stomach was trying to separate from his intestines.”

I imagined it like North and South America, caught in a tectonic plate shift at the Panama Canal, both continents trying to cleave from the other, as angry oceans rushed in. Every time I’m up at 4am with something like this, I think of my piano teacher, and how his Central American isthmus wanted to shred itself, drifting into oblivion.

And that’s the other thing: it only happens at the deadest time of night, the quiet still of a world so asleep that nobody could possibly help. Pain is a solitary venture; it can’t be shared, and at that hour, it can’t earn empathy. This is you, and it might be how you’ll go – many years from now, sure sure – but it’s a possible snapshot of the last thing you’ll ever know. My grandma, beset by a cancer missed by a mammogram she never got… is dying alone optional or mandatory?

I reached a low point last night, a full day after I’d already resigned myself to the ghetto of toast and broth, when I glimpsed “not wanting to do anything anymore.” I saw not wanting to do any of my projects, finish a script, write these words, play in a band, plan any more social events, travel. In that moment, I reached a bottom I hadn’t seen in five or six years, and even the iridescent glow of my family, sleeping in adjacent rooms, barely penetrated the darkness.

I went to bed and pulled the covers up clear over my head like I used to do as a kid in Iowa, during the most brutal winter nights. I remember daring to look out my window at the sub-zero blackness, my chin on the yellow glossy windowsill, my breath fogging the glass, then instantly freezing. I could write my name in the tiny ice with my fingernail.

And then, under covers, trying not to move because my body had formed the only warmth in the bed. I tried to remember what it was like, pillow over my head, the sound of the vaporizer whirring nearby. Maybe my dad was in another room watching “All in the Family” or maybe the house was silent, the peculiar, haunting quiet of a busy train station closed for the evening.

I close my eyes and think of having the adults take care of everything, of not having a plan, sitting in the back seat. I pull the covers up further. Just for this moment, just until I get to sleep, I think of the only thing I want: not to be responsible.

horfftastic

7/21/08

I am two days into the most violent food poisoning I’ve ever known – for the love of all that is holy, can someone post a question that will gather tons of lighthearted and fabulous responses guaranteed to ease the suffering of all afflicted?