Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Cinematic Pleasure Principle

I remember when going to the movies was a fun experience. There was a small, shitty, second-run theater within walking distance of my house when I was a kid in the 80s. I don’t know if they still have second-run theaters anymore, but for people who aren’t familiar, second-run theaters are kind of like halfway houses for old movies. I don’t mean really old movies. I’m talking about movies that have been in theaters for longer than a month. Movies that are a little smelly and past their prime. They get exiled to these run-down theaters and are pimped out for low, low ticket prices. Usually to kids whose parents are too lazy to hire a babysitter. I saw Hook, like, eight times!

Anyway, those theaters were great because besides the cheap seats, ample stale popcorn and floors that hadn’t been mopped since the Carter administration, they were usually pretty empty. That meant you could run around the theater like a crazy person to get the full immersive experience of whatever film you were there to view. If you wanted to, you could bring a baseball and mitts. Which we did, for the third viewing of The Sandlot.

But movies and the movie-going experience these days is just the worst. I mean, it’s the pits. Not to brag, but I’ve had a catheter shoved up the tip of my junk and that still wasn’t as bad as going to the movies in the 21st century.

First, there’s the commercials. I don’t really feel like going into the commercials. They exist. They’re there. We’re all forced to watch them, which is the opposite point of going to the movies. But I guess nobody has actually ever complained to the theaters that we don’t want to see a two-minute, Superbowl-level ad for Coke where a bunch of hip, fully-integrated, mixed-race people in their ambiguous 20s/30s decide to drink soda while watching an outdoor concert from a mile away with somebody’s authentic, vintage Gregorian telescope, or some bullshit like that.

Then, there’s the 30 minutes worth of trailers. Don’t get me wrong. I love trailers as much as the next movie nerd. But when you’re four trailers in and you’ve literally forgotten what movie you came to see because OMG that new Mad Max flick is going to be tight! Why am I not watching that right nowww?!?! Then it can lessen the viewing experience.

There’s a million other complaints I could throw out there, but it turns out that I’ve already been labeled a curmudgeon, so I’ll try to not add any more credence to that. I’ll just say that prices are high, movies are bad and Tyler Perry still exists.

But what I have found to be really ridiculous is how everybody feels the lemming-like urge to see movies as soon as they come out. Even sooner, if possible. And I’m not sure I understand the logic behind that. Maybe I can understand it for kids. They’re really excited for a movie to come out, I get that. I was hopeless waiting for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Cooze to be released. I ate, slept and breathed those mutant freaks for months just waiting… needing that movie to come out. And I can understand wanting to go to school on a Monday and being able to talk with the other kids who saw the movie and are therefore better than the lowly plebe students. But adults? C’mon. You assholes can’t even name five people (not characters) from Game of Thrones without having to go to IMDB. Cinema has passed you people by. There’s no incentive for you to need to see a movie within 24 hours of its release. And there is absolutely no reason for adults to congregate, en mass, at 1 am, in their ritual attire, to worship at the altar of Harry Potter and his High-Priestess J. K. Rowling.

Mister Brooks is very nearly considering kidnapping me and forcing me to see Avengers 2: The Avengening with him the night that movie comes out. Because I can’t be bothered otherwise. That movie will be no different whether I see it opening day, or three weeks later when there’re no crowds in the theater and therefore nobody around to complain when I decide to urinate on the screen.

You hear what I’m saying? There isn’t a different, cheaper edited version of the movie that they release after a month for lazy and/or cheap people. It’s the same movie! And if I wait a few weeks, like a good little boy, I won’t have to deal with humans, or trying to find good seats, or noises or smells (especially the smells) or any of that bullshit. Plus, I get to bring my flasks to the theater with me. So what if I already know what’s going to be in the post-credit sequence? Those scenes are always shot by a different director and have never once had any impact on the plots of the movies that precede them.

So, who will join me in ignoring movies when they come out in favor of waiting for them to grow a little older, a little more mature, you know, get some pubes and shit? Let somebody else deflower those virginal films. You and I? we’ll come through after the movie’s broken in, once its gained a little more experience.

And if you disagree with what I’ve said, that’s fine. Just more empty theater for me. I’ll practice my curveball. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Great American Social Experiment (The Lost Entries)

Monday, Day One, 11:16 a.m.: Out of the blue, for absolutely no reason, while inebriated Thursday, March 1st, I decided to not watch television for a week. Why? I don’t know, I do that kind of thing from time to time. I had nothing to prove to myself and nobody to try and please.

“No t.v. for a week? That’s easy! I don’t even have a television at my place,” are the words that may possibly be floating around in your head. If so then I say that you are not a true American or a patriot and that you need to hurry out and buy a television before the forces of terrorism hear about you and laugh triumphantly. Or, perhaps you’re the kind of person who has such a wonderful active lifestyle (with your new custom-made hair) that you rarely watch t.v. Well, screw you too, because I don’t get down like that. I’ve got no job and have nothing but time in which to watch the “boob tube.” My Dojo of Love is set up around the very idea that people come together to watch t.v.

So, throughout the week I will make short entries to follow how things are going. Then I’ll post it all on Monday, March 12th.

This should be an interesting week

4:00 p.m.: So far so good. I’m a little bored, but managed to spend the day doing laundry and whoring myself out for employment. I’m worried about tonight though. The whole point of evenings is to watch t.v., isn’t it?

Tuesday, Day Two, 11:06 a.m.: Last night was brutal. Luckily I got to see some webcam boobies and that helped to pass the time. So did reading, which is my first love anyway. Today is going well. I’ll be gone for most of the afternoon with my first job interview. I mean, the first ever. My pits are so soaked I’ve had to change shirts three times already! I hope they don’t notice. It’s funny, I’ve interviewed thousands of people as a journalist, including the (now former since he resigned last week) secretary of the Army, the deputy secretary of defense, the chief of staff of the army, General Petraeus, hell even Tom Brokaw, yet I’ve rarely been on the receiving end of an interview. Maybe I should take a bunch of Valium first to calm my ass down. I’ve got another interview tomorrow. We’ll see how I do on this one first. I guess not watching t.v. has been beneficial; I sent my resume out to a bunch of places yesterday and I’m more focused on trying to get employed, (which is both a good and bad thing.)

Thursday, Day Four, 11:14 p.m.:  Temptation. Strong temptation. And not just to watch tv. I also quit drinking for the week as well. That’s right, no substances and no television. Why would I do that to myself? Because I’m a masochist, apparently. Today was the worst day of my life. This coming from a guy who’s been to war twice and has seen shit you wouldn’t believe going on around him. And I stand by my statement: Today was the worst day of my life. They have honesty in advertising, but they should have honesty in help wanted ads as well. If a company calls itself a marketing and advertising firm and offers a job in public relations, then that’s what you should get when you apply. If a company is really nothing more than a bunch of shady-ass solicitors who make you walk all goddamn day from business to business, bothering and annoying everybody you come across in a vain attempt to sell some Papa John’s coupons, they should tell you that as well. My experience is in writing and public affairs, not in hassling regular people to buy some stupid coupons they don’t need so they can get nice and fat off of greasy food and corporate America can get nice and fat off of these simpletons’ money. Have you ever been on the giving end of a sales pitch? Lies, miscommunication, deliberately misleading, insulting and I don’t know what else, are the name of the game there. The worst part is that I’m back to square one as far as the job hunting goes. I was all excited because I had two interviews and a walk through/observation day all in one week. But both places that interviewed me are exactly the same! They are both offshoots of the same parent company, but one’s in Baltimore and one’s in Falls Church, Virginia

And to compound this glorious day, at the end, what was supposed to be a relaxing Poker Night, turned into a devastating ass whomping for me. I just don’t get poker. I really want to surrender myself to the loving embrace of alcohol, but I can’t. It’s not even about watching t.v. anymore. That’s easy, it’s just a little awkward in social settings, because everywhere you go there a t.v. on and I have to turn my back to it or stand in a different room and converse by yelling. It’s not about the t.v. watching. It’s about my underdeveloped will power finally growing a set and making what it hopes isn’t its final stand. I just wish that the week I decided to quit all of my vices and fun activities wasn’t also the busiest, most stressful week I’ve had this year.

Hmmmm, a blog where I actually talk about myself without exaggeration. This isn’t interesting at all. Not to mention the complete lack of humor.

Friday, Day Five, 7:19 p.m.: Everybody has their breaking point. Pick up artists know this. Interrogators and torture experts know this. Our pitiful and corrupt government knows this. And now I know it. Sure I can justify and rationalize, but it doesn’t really change things. I had only planned to stop drinking for a week, which I technically did since I stopped doing that last Thursday, (I stopped watching t.v. on Monday) but it still feels like I’m giving up. Don’t get me wrong I haven’t actually done anything yet. But by the time you read this I will have. And by the time I post again, that portion of the experiment will be over. Success? Failure? No clue. All I know is that I’ve had a very stressful week and I’ve been on edge, snapping at people and walking around with a dangerously short fuse. I need to relax. I realized that today at lunch when I was in a restaurant trying to eat and have a conversation with my friend while this, and I use the term loosely “mother” allowed her super-hyper child run around throwing things on the ground and making all types of noises while she just continued to talk to some old couple at her table, thinking she’s cute because she obviously shops at thrift stores and wants you to know that she’s kitschy because she wears bright red galoshes even when it’s sunny out. I had to calm myself and count to ten because I was very close to walking over to the mother and telling her to shut her retarded child up before I pick him up by HIS GODDAMN HAIR AND THROW HIS ASS THROUGH THE GODAMN PLATE-GLASS WINDOW! People who know me know that I am fully capable and willing to walk up to the mother and yell at her in front of a restaurant full of strangers. You know that scene from Family Guy where Brian is in the restaurant and he starts crying really loudly like the baby next to him? That’s exactly how I felt. Not to stereotype or make racial generalizations but why do white people let their kids do whatever they want in public? Do they think it’s cute? Do they think that we’re all having a jolly time listening to a child scream at 7 million decibels?  Take a hint from black people, beat your child in public, then he/she won’t act that way. And I make you this promise, I’m not going to be so nice next time some shit like that goes down, so handle your kids people because you never know where I’ll be and I’ll be very happy to handle your kids for you.

Time for drinkies!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

On the Way From Toledo

I was dawdling over my fifth cup of coffee at Deacon’s when it happened.

It was just after six am and I’d been busy keeping my counter stool warm for the last 45 minutes. I’d been at the R. A. Stranahan Arboretum with Chester since three thirty that morning, getting B-Roll for a piece on how the Arboretum keeps their collection of magnificent urban flora warm and alive during these brutal Toledo winters. To be honest, I’m pretty sure nobody cares in the slightest about trees in the cold months, but who am I to argue? I don’t pass out the assignments, I just cash the paychecks. Next my editor will have me doing a story about where the ducks go when the pond freezes, and I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been a thing anybody has cared about since the 50s.
After filming the ever-suspenseful winterizing process for the Arboretum, (They wrap the trees in scarves and give them giant mugs of hot cocoa. Well, that’s not true, but what do you care?) we opted for a late-night/ass-break of day breakfast over at Deacon’s Diner. The diner wasn’t in Toledo proper; it was further southeast, in Abingdon, near the lake. Deacon’s is nothing fancy, but with their motto (It’s Supposed to Taste Like That) how can anybody resist?
One incredibly unhealthy (and therefore extra delicious) breakfast and two steaming cups of Joe later, Chester and I were satisfied and warm. We swiveled our stools around to look out of the windows behind us. At just after five twenty, it was still black as sin outside. The small oases of light that the parking lot lamps made where reflected back in the countless snowdrifts around the lot’s perimeter. This led to great views of piles of dirty snow, and little else. The small herd of parked cars were huddled as close to the entrance as possible, to make the door-to-door journey more tolerable for the patrons. Truck drivers weren’t so lucky. They had to park at the far end of the lot and hope they made it to the building before their balls froze off.
Currently, there was only one truck parked. It was an old bruiser of a vehicle. I couldn’t see it since it was so far from the window and the falling snow did its best to obscure everything outside, but the distinct neon green cab and the word “Micmac” in large, black Helvetica letters are clearly visible from the warmth of the diner. Chester and I played a little game of “Coming From? Going To?” with the semi, to keep our minds occupied.
“From NORAD, to Area 51,” I said.
“Neither of those places are near here. You’re an idiot. I say Mount Rushmore to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Chester replied.
“How very National Treasure of you,” I said. How about the Overlook Hotel, all the way to ‘Salem’s Lot in Mai…”
The discordant chime of the entrance being opened brought us out of our game and forced us to turn our attention to the front door. The fact that somebody was coming into the diner took everybody by surprise, because, as far as I could gather from the nonplussed expressions being universally worn around the room, nobody had heard a car pull into the lot or park. And with the odd, echo-y sound effects falling snow can create, we should have all heard a parking car as well as feet shuffling on the wooden floor of an empty room.
A stranger entered the diner. Which is actually a more ominous thing to say than it really is, when you consider that besides the doughy cameraman on the stool to my left, everybody else there was a stranger to me. Hell, who knows if there is even a Deacon? The new customer was borne in on a cloud of snowflakes and frozen wind. He was a tall man, though his height was most likely augmented by his large, black boots. He was wearing a black suit with the lithe ease of a person who is probably not used to wearing anything else. He looked like he slept in that suit. Not that it was wrinkled, or anything, it just had an air of belonging on him, like he was unsubstantial underneath and much like taking the wrappings off a mummy would lead you to an empty space (if cartoons are any gauge of how the Egyptian mummification system worked, that is) I got the feeling that if you removed his suit, you’d find an empty space there too, where a body should be.
He walked directly up to the counter and sat down on the stool next to me, waving the waitress over.  Being next to me, I didn’t really have the opportunity to study what he looked like, because just staring at random people a foot away from you is usually frowned upon in society. I turned around back to the counter and tried to ignore the odd sensation I felt when the stranger had walked in. My eyes traveled around the room as much as they could without me turning my head too much and making a spectacle of nosiness. I knew it couldn’t just be me and the pervasive, shared uneasiness confirmed it. I saw nothing but looks of bafflement mixed with dread. As if everybody in the diner was 75 percent sure they had just eaten raw chicken and weren’t entirely sure which end it was going to come out of, but they knew it was going to be explosive. The room filled with the tangible weight of looming, but incoherent apprehension.
I reined in my eyes and focused on the cup in front of me, my conversation with Chester forgotten. That’s when the stranger spoke.
At this point, I wish that I had that Mary Lou Henner disease, because looking back on it, I barely remember anything he said. And we just talked a few hours ago. Maybe my brain didn’t want to remember his words. Maybe as an evolutionary thing, our brains are wired to delete the really bad stuff. I’d heard stories from vets about being in war and blacking out, their minds turning off to scenes of utter violence and destruction. Or maybe it’s like people who had traumatizing events happen when they’re kids, but only remember after several expensive psychiatric appointments.
I remember only that the stranger’s name was Mr. Brooks and he said he was a collector. Not entirely sure what he collected. I’m pretty sure I made a joke about Antiques Roadshow which he laughed off with a wave of a very thin, papery, translucent hand with faint streams of blue veins peeking through the skin. He mentioned that his collection had more to do with rare, but non-valuable items. He owned one-of-a-kind possessions with value only to a small number of people in the world. It didn’t make much sense to me, but then again, I collected lunchboxes featuring cartoon characters when I was a kid and in hindsight, that doesn’t make much sense either.
I know that I asked him why he was in town, but his response is somewhere, lost in my foggy brain. He was in town on business. Though, who has business in Toledo in the middle of December, is a mystery to me. Something about flowers maybe? I think he mentioned flowers blooming. From what I had just seen at the arboretum, I was pretty sure that flowers didn’t bloom in the winter, but I distinctly remember the word Rosebud.
And here things get even more disjointed. You know how in dreams you end up changing locations, or the people around you will mutate into other people, but instead of being confused by the environment being so fluid, you just go with it? You’ll be in your bedroom, say, and then you turn around to walk out and all of a sudden you’re at work. Shit like that. Well, that’s kind of how the rest of things went with Mr. Brooks and our conversation. One minute he’s sitting next to me and I’m trying to wash the taste of something disturbing he told me (Something about cats? Dogs? A couch?) out of my mouth with a swig of coffee, and the next minute, he’s gone, the stool’s empty and I’m just staring into the black abyss of my mug of coffee, feeling uncomfortable without knowing why. Like somebody walked on my grave.  I know that sounds weird and overly dramatic. I can’t help it. As a journalist, I’m supposed to be entirely objective; I rarely get to tell any stories with emotional content or depth. So please excuse my attempts to channel a better storyteller. Anyway, like I said: disjointed.
However Mr. Brooks managed to disappear from Deacon’s, the diner instantly let out a collective sigh of release. We all felt better. He had taken the oppressive vibe of dismay with him and left us to contemplate how to spend the rest of our day. Most of the early morning customers cleared out, emptying the parking lot with them. Even the big rig in the back left.
Fifteen minutes and another cup of coffee later and we’re back at the beginning of the story. Life is circular like that. Like a big old pointless circle that goes around and around, usually trapped in place. At least wheels get to travel. Especially the 18 wheels of a tractor trailer.
It was just after six am when I got the call.  Seems that a couple of young girls had decided that sledding at Dark O’Clock in the morning was a good idea. Turns out that it is was the worst idea. One of the girls went down a hill that led straight out onto I-98. I guess they figured that by going so early in the morning, the road would be empty enough that cars wouldn’t be a problem.
My editor called me while I was still at Deacon’s. He had us go over to the hill to try and get whatever footage and interviews we could. You know how it is, if it bleeds, it leads. So, we paid our bill and headed over to eastern Abingdon to learn what we could.
It was a horrific scene, to be sure. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Nobody needs to know what happens to a 105-lb human body when it encounters an 80,000-lb monster of metal and noise. I tried to interview the surviving girl, but she was hustled away before I could speak to her. Losing a sibling can’t be easy, a twin even more so. I was able to interview the truck driver, but he wasn’t much help. His words kept sputtering and he was too dazed to get anything out other than his breakfast from Deacon’s that he’d thrown up on the side of the road. I stayed there with Chester for about 40 minutes, but nobody was very talkative. From the cops, to the guys tasked with cleaning things up and getting the remains to the hospital, it was a wall of silence. I hadn’t expected much in the way of good quotes anyway. It was a tragedy, but not a rare one. Well, I guess an identical twin seeing the death of their other half is a rarity, but that kind of tidbit won’t bring in The Great Unwashed or boost the ratings.
The only thing that did stand out to me is that at one point, after the sun had risen and the snow had stopped falling, I looked up to the crest of the hill and even from 70 yards away, I could see a single figure up at the top. I couldn’t make out the details of the figure’s face, but their black clothing stood out in stark contrast to the frigid ocean of white around them. The person was just standing there, looking over the busy scene at the bottom of the hill, full of bright, rotating lights, loud engines and people scurrying around, busy in their morbid work. The next thing I knew, the figure was gone, disappearing into the snowy landscape.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that the body of the deceased girl had disappeared from the county morgue. Just vanished. Nobody knew what had happened to the remains. It became quite the scandalous mystery, for about two weeks, before people lost interest. And in the end, there was no body to bury under the tombstone for Rosemary “Rose” Budston.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

All The Awkwards

I want to reclaim the word “awkward*.” I don’t mean awkward in the sense that you and your bro want to celebrate a particularly good play in a sporting event so you go in for a high five and he goes in for a fist bump. I mean…

Shit. What is the actual definition of awkward anyway? Let me start over.

To me, the word “awkward” has been watered down way too much in recent years. Much in the way that skulls somehow got painted pink and bedazzled until they stopped being symbols of death and transmogrified into cutesy decorations fit only to be worn by ridiculous teens, “awkward” is now just a dismissible foible instead of the status-maintaining safeguard it was installed to be.

To be awkward is to fail to grasp the simplest of human interactions and customs. It doesn’t denote a lack of intelligence or anything. Just a certain…”not getting it.” While existing around other creatures of the same species tends to be a no-brainer to most, to some it’s a grueling gauntlet of unavoidable peril, crushed feelings, misheard words, misunderstood intentions and a general pain in the tokus.

You know. Awkward.

I’m awkward. Really awkward. There’s nothing cute about it. It’s not an “oh you!” kind of situation. I don’t comically bump into things while I walk in a clumsy, yet endearing way. Example? Here’s a conversation between two normal people (I assume):

Bob: Hi Deacon! How are you today?

Deacon: Salutations Bob!** I’m doing alright. Can’t complain. I’m just on my way to the store to buy napkins. Bye!

Bob: Bye!

Now, here’s a conversation with me:

Bob: Hi Josh! How’s it going?

Me: Shit man. It’s already two in the afternoon and I’m not nearly as drunk as I should be.

Bob: Well, maybe you should consider putting your pants back on. You’re starting to scare the Chuck E. Cheese employees. Not to mention the kids.

Me: But this is the best way to see the flesh decay and fall off of my rotting bones as the inevitable march of time slowly destroys us all!

Bob: Security!


It’s not fun. It really isn’t. I’m in a perpetual state of befuddlement about even the most basic things. Like facial expressions.  A real grumbacher.  Are people supposed to practice smiling in the mirror? Probably not, but I do. Getting the ends of my mouth to curl up takes practice. Plus I find that people are less put off when your face isn’t just a blank slate, (by the way, people who smile at nothing in general when their faces are in a resting state scare the shit out of me.)

Also, tact can be a fairly alien concept to me. I’ve been accused of speaking without taking into consideration such foreign notions as other people’s feelings, or how my words may come across. I have enough trouble trying to convey coherent thoughts and ideas; making sure my words go down with a spoonful of sugar seems like extra credit for me. Gotta crawl before you can walk.  I’m not tactless in an “I keep it real” way, just an “I don’t know any better” kind of way.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m on the spectrum. But I know I’m not. That’d be a cop out. An easy excuse for my uncouth mannerisms. Then things I say and do could be quickly waved away as the behavior of a buffoon. I could walk up to somebody and just piss myself while maintaining their gaze and they’d just give me a gentle pat on the head, a reassuring “there, there,” and send me on my way, knowing I tried my best and I’ll probably get Jell-o later as a reward.   

I’m just awkward.

And it has cost me a lot. I routinely bungle friendships, relationships, napkin-buying jaunts, etc. A life that’s a comedy of errors is one thing when it’s directed by Truffaut, or if it happens to Ignatius Reilly, but it’s demoralizing when it’s your actual life. It’s frustrating, because as far as I can tell, we’re all looking at the same 3-D illusion, but only you guys can see the goddamn schooner.

The answer, by the way, is not to “get out there and interact more,” with people. That’s callous advice, dispensed by those who don’t understand the problem enough to care about a solution. That’s like telling a nerd that if he wants to get beat up less by bullies, he needs to hang out around more bullies. That’s a recipe for pummelings galore. I’ve found that the best solution for me is to stay away from people. I’m never going to figure out how to be less awkward. And you normies will never be tolerant of somebody who’s confusing and contrary, seemingly for the sake of shits and grins.

So I try to limit my social interaction. Because I know better. Being “awkward” may sound like some opportunities for hilarity, but it’s not. It’s not a good thing, no matter how you slice it. And if I have to live with the never-ending and sometimes far-reaching consequences of my awkwardness, then I’ll at least own it.

I’ll own all the awkwards.

*Don’t even get me started on reclaiming the word reclaim.

**”Salutations”. See? I already got the hellos wrong. How do you people do this?