24.3.06

Sometimes I scare myself...

I keep churning around an idea for a story that I’m certain has to have been told already. It’s an idea that scares the earwax out of me. Someone must have written it already.

I didn’t pay very much attention while trudging my way through the Chicago Public School system. I spent more time and energy on getting out of assignments than it would have taken me to actually do them. I’m especially deficient in the department of world history. I bring this up because I have only passing knowledge of the great leaders of the world. Those who rose up to control huge portions of the globe and the lives of millions.

The story that I’ve been chewing on for the past few weeks doesn’t involve someone who wants to control the world, or cleanse the genetic pool, or anything like that. I’m interested in someone who wants to destroy the world. Not so much crack the planet in half, but rather exterminate as much of mankind as possible in one fell swoop. (I will never tire of the phrase ‘one fell swoop’)

I’m a bit behind on my comic book reading, but for the sake of argument let’s take Lex Luthor. He’s mad as a hatter, right? But he’s also a genius. Somehow Superboy made him bald when they were kids, so he focuses a lot of his energy on killing Supes. But what if he didn’t have Superman to fixate on. What if this criminal genius set his sights on destroying life on Earth as we know it. This being a comic book he might need to have an ulterior motive, like wanting to create a new race of man from the ashes of the fallen. Perhaps he has a bit of lint from Superman’s bellybutton and he’s going to exterminate all of mankind and create a new race that will bow down to him without question, but which also have a hint of Superman’s DNA twisted within their own. Whatever.

People have done some pretty heinous things, but what if there walked among us someone with a superior intelligent, who decided, for some reason or another, to focus all of his energies on destroying his fellow man.

The way I figure it, he’s a scholastic genius. He’s got a handful of degrees in the genetic sciences. Either he’s a trust fund baby or he’s committed some unspeakable acts to insure that his mission is well funded.

He would use his academic credentials to secure a position at a research facility that either manufactures what he needs, or serves as a stepping-stone to achieve the security clearance he’ll eventually need.

The type of individual we’re looking at here has zero respect for humanity. He has no conscience for his actions. Nothing will stand in the way of him achieving his goal.

After considerable research he’s determined that a virus created by a Russian wunderkind in the 1970s will do the ticket. If released in an airborne form it kills instantly, either through skin contact or by inhaling. An added bonus is that the victims, who have vomited up a lot of soft tissue, including their lungs, become a breeding ground for the virus.

The other way to expose a maximum number of people to the virus is through the water system. The results are much slower compared to those exposed to the virus in the airborne form, but at the same time the results are much more insidious. Anyone who digests the infected water or even comes into physical contact with the water, becomes breeders. The virus incubates inside of them, any anyone in the same room with them or that comes in contact with them, suffer the immediate effects and start coughing their lungs out. The lifetime of the virus when released into a fresh water supply is only 36 hours.

The virus is potent enough that a scuba tank-sized container hidden in a water treatment plant could affect millions. Our crazed villain calculates that as few as ten treatment plants will need to be infiltrated.

He decides to put his plan into action on New Years Eve. There will be plenty of crowds to affect with airborne bombs. Simultaneously, via radio control, he will release the virus into the water supply. Within hours, thousands will be dead. In 24 hours it will be millions. The scientists capable of recognizing the virus and concocting the cure will be long dead.

Within 30 days the virus will have done its damage. Major cities have been obliterated. People are rotting in the streets. HAZMAT teams confirm that the virus is no longer a threat. Help comes from all around the world, from areas not affected by the New Years Eve slaughter. The dead are buried, the streets are cleared, order is somewhat restored.

The volunteers return home, not realizing that they are carrying a sleeper virus; one so sophisticated that the HAZMAT idiots couldn’t find it with a flashlight and a map. Six months later stage two of the genocide begins. Everyone that the carriers have come into contact with, and everyone that the people they’ve come into contact with, suddenly come down with a mild cold. A week later they develop a severe fever that tops out at 120 degrees, more than enough to cook the brains of everyone infected. Even more die during stage two.

Is our villain sitting on a mountaintop, next to his well-stocked cave, laughing at all that he’s done? I don’t think so. That’s not what this guy is all about. This is what he was born to do. Surviving the slaughter was never a consideration for him. All he cared about was getting the job done. I picture him inside the countdown ball that drops in Times Square. He’s got a tank on his back and he’s releasing the virus in all directions, with a determined look on his face. Minutes later he dies with no regret, hoping only that his plan succeeds.

*************

So that’s the idea that’s been bouncing around inside my head. Has there ever been anything like this done before? Please let me know.

Sleep eludes me...

It’s 3:00 and I can’t sleep. For past half hour I’ve been watching an old favorite movie of mine. It’s not a blockbuster. It’s a low-key affair called the Friends of Eddie Coyle. It stars Robert Mitchum (an actor who has never been afraid to play his age—you have to give him credit for that. It also stars Peter Boyle, an actor who has never been afraid to be bald. Again, credit where it’s due. Another great supporting player is Robert Jordon. He’s always been one of my favorite B or C-list players. I first noticed him as Logan’s pal Francis 7 in 1976’s Logan Run. He also had a great role in 1985’s The Mean Season.

Yesterday I was paging through a magazine and came across a crossword puzzle. I don’t watch a lot of new shows, especially shows like Dawson’s’ Creek or the OC or shows like that. I could rock on a puzzle set in the 70s. Anyway, one of the questions was the name of the robot in Logan’s Run. I know the robot was modeled after and the voice was provided by Roscoe Lee Brown, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall the name. Until now. It was Box. I’ve heard for a few years that Brian Singer wants to remake Logan’s run. I would like that. I would pay nine bucks to see that.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the story of a bottom rung crook who must have screwed up his parole or something, and tries to stay out of prison by providing info to the cops. It was shot in and around Boston, probably on a shoestring budget, with lots of local flavor. It probably never won any awards, but it tells a good story and gets the job done.

The movie is over now and I’ve switched over to 1988’s The Lady in White. This is a movie that I’ve always wanted to watch. I still remember reading Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun times and checking the show times. The premise is that a little kid, played by Lukas Haas (who held his own against Harrison Ford in 1985’s Witness) sees the ghosts of kids molested and killed twenty years earlier. I guess he tries to find out who did the nasty deeds. I’m going to change channels. I want to eventually see it from the start.

I switched over to 1987’s Someone to Watch Over Me. It stars Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers and was directed by Ridley Scott. I always thought this was a weird choice for Scott. I mean, the guy directs Alien, Blade Runner, Legend and then this?

Back in 1987 I decided to give it a go anyway. Besides, Tom Berenger was up and coming and he reminded me of a young Paul Newman. Plus, there was the Mimi Rogers factor in the equation. At time I hadn’t seen her in anything before, but even so, she had the ‘it’ factor, the factor that both intrigued me and made me feel fancy in my pants.

I always wondered about Tom Berenger. It was in a lot of high profile films in the 80s and I think he was poised to become someone big, but that never happened.

In 1988 I went to see a Tom Berenger movie called Betrayed, with my friend Jim Higgins. It was in a dumpy little theater in Staten Island. Debra Winger co-starred in the film, which happily took me by surprise and turned out to be something that I wasn’t expecting it to be. I’m surprised that it never turns up on cable, but if you ever see it, I suggest that you do.

Years earlier when I worked at a commercial print shop in Chicago I used to walk three or four blocks over to the bank to cash my check on payday. I forget the name of the bank, but it was a relic from the 1930s and it was a beauty. At one point in the movie The Betrayed, a bank robbery goes down in a familiar looking bank. It was my bank! I don’t know what came over me, but I actually stood up and shouted, “Hey, I know that bank! That’s my bank!” Jim Higgins pulled me back down to my seat and shushed me. Luckily the theater was mostly empty.

Anyway, I should try and get some sleep. I don’t think Mimi is going to be getting named anytime soon. She did that plenty in other movies, in later years. I think it must be in her contract to be naked in every movie she makes—except for Lost in Space. She wasn’t nude it that but here were plenty of robots, so that makes up for it.

And hey, don’t judge me because I like seeing attractive movie stars naked. Don’t you judge me.

23.3.06

Holy Batman!

The first Batman movie is on cable right now and I’m stuck by how beautiful the design of the film is. I know that the fellow who inspired a lot of the cityscapes and buildings is long dead, but if they ever do a Watchman movie it should look like this movie.

Speaking of Alan Moore and the movies, we’re finally going to see V for Vendetta this weekend. Last weekend I was on deadline. We also going to try and see the stick-up movie with Clive Owen and Denzel Washington. I want to see it before the big twist/reveal becomes common knowledge.

People I know are a bit iffy about fitting all of V for Vendetta into two hours, but as I recall, the comic was a bit chatty. It was good chatty, back when Alan still had some good stuff to say, but I don’t think a lot of it will be missed from the movie. The Watchmen comic series was pretty chatty/fat, with a lot of stuff that was non crucial to the storyline going on, but the fans would have six or seven heart attacks each if anything is left out. I true representation of the comic can never be made into a movie because if you have Dr. Manhattan’s big blue dong swinging around that long it’ll drive the rating through the ceiling. My wife Valarie thinks that one of the cable networks might be able to pull it off. I think she’s dead right.

We watched the final episode of The Shield earlier this evening. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, let me just say that I thought it ended with more of a whimper than a bang. I was expecting a multi-megaton bombastic close. It was still entertaining as hell.

Ah, back on T.V. I just caught a glimpse of Billy D. Williams as Harvey Dent. He would have made for an interesting Half-Face. He sure couldn’t have done worse than Tommy Lee Jones.

Speaking of comic book movies, there’s been very little buzz on the movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s being directed by Zack Snyder who did a Crackerjack of a job on 1994's Dawn of the Dead. 300 is a period piece and is going to be a hard sell without any big names in the cast. I guess time will tell. It 's too bad Miller had such a bad experience in Hollywood in the early 1990s with the RoboCop films. He could have been doing some fun films. Perhaps his acceptance level will be high enough after the Sin City films wind down for him to do the kinds of movies he’d like to do. It would be a waste if he didn’t.

22.3.06

The way the story goes. The way the earthquake story goes.

Nothing to see here…the earthquake is over.

I was upstairs writing a few things miscellaneous things for Liquid Development, watching the earthquake movie and I dozed off. I’m on a new medication for my back, so I blame the drugs.

So I don’t know what happened during the last hour or so of the movie. I can postulate that: Jennifer Garner and the recently-arrived-from-a-war-torn-unnamed-country cabbie wound up together.

Sharon Lawrence finally got to her son’s school and found him hiding in the bathroom. Before I dozed off I recall seeing a great shot of him finally clearing the rubble from the only door in the room and opening it to see that the remainder of the building he was in had been sheared off. He hung swinging from the door, shocked by what he saw.

***I have the 70s music channel playing right now and they’re spinning Johnny Rivers’ Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu. When’s the last time you heard that? When’s the last time you heard a hit song with the word ‘pneumonia’ in the title.***

Back in the subway tunnel, I think the murderer that Charles S. Dutton’s lawyer daughter freed of all charges showed his true colors and revealed himself to be a calculating and blood-thirsty killer. Everyone will be in peril, but the guy from 24 will step in and be a hero in time and the killer-freed-in-error by the lawyer woman will get a fifty-ton block of cement dropped on his head during a key moment.

And in the end, I think that the gruff mayor, played by Charles S. Dutton will patch things up with Tom Skerritt, who will stay on as the fire chief, provided some concessions are made that no doubt will have something to do with the burn victim he was visiting earlier. Perhaps a bigger budget for fire gear for the city’s fire fighters.

The final shot of the film will be Sharon Stone being reunited with her bathroom-trapped son. They will kiss and hug the very way she should kiss and hug me. Then we would go home and eat some cheese sandwiches or something, because we just survived an earthquake all and that’d make a person hungry. Then she would complain about how dirty she got during the earthquake and say she was going to shower. She would accidentally leave the bathroom door open and I would catch glimpses of her undressing. The shower would come on and steam would cloud up the mirrors and make the room a cloudy paradise. I would finally screw up my courage to go in there. She did leave the door open, after all. Ask Freud, there are no mistakes. So I swallow the last bite of my cheese sandwich and walk into the bathroom. The only problem is that she’s not in the shower yet. She’s sitting on the toilet dropping off the kids into the pool. I don’t know what she had for breakfast that morning, but the smell of whatever it is she’s pushing out of her ass makes me want to vomit, then all of a sudden I do vomit, all over Sharon Lawrence. I expect her to be horrified, but instead she seems to be aroused by the chunks of semi-digested cheese and bile dripping off her body. She reaches a hand out to me, with a sexy look on her face. With her other hand she’s pulling toilet paper off the roll and wiping her butt. I scream. She screams even louder in delight. I’m trapped. I have no choice but to swallow my tongue.

Wow. I still think she’s kind of cute, but I hope I’m nowhere near Sharon Lawrence if there’s an earthquake.

The disaster continues...

There’s still no word from Symantic, I made my deadline for Liquid Development and the boys are off at the Game Developer’s conference in San Jose, so I’m returning to the earthquake movie. My daughter is home and on her computer so I can’t do anything on it.

I’ve learned the Charles S. Dutton is the Mayor of what’s left of New York. Tom Skerritt had been the Chief of Police, but he’d resigned just this morning. There is no love lost between Skerritt and Dutton. Because police headquarters and fire headquarters has been destroyed, that makes Skerritt the head of the police and the fire department. He tells Dutton that he takes his resignation back. Grrr. Lots of teeth grinding on both sides. Skerritt says that he needs the streets clear for fire and rescue. Dutton orders that every privately owned bulldozer in the city will be put in action to do the job.

Jennifer Garner can’t lose her taxi driver. He’s from some war-torn country so he knows how to survive in conditions like these. Garner tries to stop some looters and nearly gets killed. Cab driver stops the violence. She keeps pushing him away but she needs him and she knows she needs him. Romance is on the horizon.

Back in the subway tunnel an asshole that Charles S. Dutton’s lawyer daughter just freed from a murder charge has taken charge of the situation. He’s showing an ugly side that she never saw in the courtroom. He wants to leave the injured behind. They’re mostly dead already, he reasons. Finally he gives in when the crowd turns ugly on him. The lady lawyer has stuck up a friendship with the guy who plays Curtis Manning on 24.

Commercial break. The Geico lizard is talking to another lizard about pie and chips. I don’t understand what the point of the commercial is, but I like it. I already have Geico insurance.

Oooop, the subway tunnel suddenly starts filling up with water. This could be bad.

If I had to compare the two I’d say that this earthquake movie is better than then the movie Earthquake from the early 70s with Charleton Heston. I think that one hit Los Angeles, so that was no major loss.

ChiPs star Eric Estrada is on television hawking a real estate package for Vila Vista village in Arkansas. I could get a free weekend trip there if I call now. Hmmm… Tempting if Jon was there too, and that blonde woman. If the three of them were there I’d go.

The commercial breaks are getting longer. They must be running out of movie. I have to go do some writing. I’ll check in on the earthquake a little later.

Disaster for lunch...


As I type these words I’m watching a disastrous movie on the USA Network. It’s called ‘Aftershock: Earthquake in New York’ and it stars Tom Skerritt and Sharon Lawrence. I’ve only been watching for a few minutes, but the movie has been on for a half hour. There’s still no earthquake. Mostly they’ve been busy introducing characters that I guess we’re going to care about once the quake flattens New York. The movie was made in 1999 and I’m expecting the effects to be horrible.

Oh, a young Jennifer Garner just appeared. She’s a frustrated ballet dancer. She’s having lunch with her father, who played Greg’s wealthy father on Dharma and Greg.

I usually don’t watch movies on USA, but I stopped on this one while eating my lunch, because Sharon Lawrence is in it.

I had such a major crush on her when she was on NYPD Blue. She was also on a sitcom with Doug’s wife Carrie, years before she was cast on King of Queens.

Oh, there’s Charles S. Dutton. He appears to be someone important. He’s talking on the phone with his daughter, but she says she’s going to go ride the subway. That could be bad, what with an earthquake on the way.

Oh, commercial break.

I’ve been struggling all morning long with folks at Symantic. I upgraded the virus protection on my daughter’s computer, and the old Nortons software isn’t recognizing the new Norton’s software. Symantic doesn’t have a toll free number for frustrated customers who need help. You have three choices if you’re in trouble. 1.)Send them an email describing your problem and they’ll get back to you. 2.)Phone them, for a $30.00 charge. 3.)Internet chat with the help desk.

Oh, Tom Skerritt is in a hospital, visiting someone who has half their face burned off. His I.V. bottle is shaking. No one seems to notice.

I tried the third option first with Symantic first, and had the chance to text chat with no less than three helpers. All were in India and none had much of a mastery of the English language.

Oh, the quake has hit. Jennifer Garner’s taxi cab just got creamed by a White Castle sign, but the cabbie got her out first. Oh, the MOMA is crumbling. The effects are fair. Not insulting. A little boy is trapped in a public bathroom. There’s big trouble in the subway. Sharon Lawrence’s refrigerator is open and all the contents are falling out. Her little doggie is running around the apartment, dodging falling tables and lamps. The cabbie has dragged Jennifer Garner under a water delivery truck, thinking it would be a good idea. A sink hole has eaten most of the truck, they get out from under it just in time. Lots of rubble and people are falling from the skies. Hmm, the quake seems to be stopping. Nope, here come the aftershocks. There’s trouble in the hospital room. The burn victim has lost his oxygen mask. The subway car with Charles S. Dutton’s daughter on it is running out of control, and careening at an odd angle. Oh, no…the statue of liberty just fell down in the worst effect shot of the movie. The people at USA probably cut out any scenes of the World Trade center. To protect my sensibilities. Lots of chaos in the streets. Lots of steam or somke shotting up. Now fire. Oh, Jennifer Garner’s cabbie has caught on fire. She puts him out and they huddle in a dooway. People are screaming, children are crying. The burn victim finally gets his mask back. Times square is a wreck. Sorry Disney. Sharon Lawrence’s dog’s name is Low Rider. Maybe Lou Rider. She still looks hot. Her hair’s a mess and she’s all dirty. Maybe she’ll take a steamy shower.

Commerical. So after I gave up on text chatting with people who didn’t have a clue as to how to help me, I went to the second option and sent a detailed email message to Symantic.

This Easter you can find faith in Christ. Those Mormons make the best commercials.

So this morning I got an email response, from their help center in India. He told me that he was sorry for my problems and gave me the URL for two help pages on the Symantic site. I went to both and tried everything it suggested. No good. I fiddled around a little on my own and managed to get the new software registered, but again, the old software doesn’t recognize it.

Wow, in the midst of an earthquake, Jennifer Garner managed to find her father under a pile of rubble. He’s dying and he tells her that he’s proud of her and that he loves her. He wants her to be a dancer. The cabbie starts pulling the rings and watch off her dead father, his wallet too. She freaks out but he tells her that she needs to hang onto things that will remind him of her. Back in the subway Charles S. Dutton’s lawyer daughter is shaken, but not stirred. Tom Skerritt is out on the streets now. He helps a little girl find her parents. Lots of people are walking over very neatly stacked piles of rubble. Tom Skerritt stops at a fire station. It turns out he’s a fire chief. He’s trying to get his boys out on the street to help those in need. I wonder if Tom Skerritt could help me with my computer. A girl in a news helicopter is talking to Skerritt, describing what she sees. The Brooklyn Bridge is in the water. City Hall and police central are flattened.

I don’t think Sharon Lawrence is going to get naked anytime soon. My lunch is done so I’d better get back to work.

I wrote back to Symantic. Perhaps they’ve responded. It could be worse, there could be an earthquake.

21.3.06

The original millennium bug...



I saw one hell of a crummy movie back in 1989

One day, back in the mid-1980s I was depressed and I went to the library. I think I was writing for NOW Comics at the time and it might have been when I was working on staff. I would have gone out to a bar or a movie, but my depression was usually always connected with being broke so I spent a lot of time at the library. I would split my time between reading and people watching.

I used to and still do read a lot of fiction, mystery and science fiction. I never too a liking to fantasy. I tried to read The Hobbit at least a dozen times. If it wasn’t for Peter Jackson I probably would have never found out what happened to Bilbo Baggypants.

I like my sci-fi old skool. I’m not sure if the cyber punk movement has started yet back then. Digging through the shelves of books that I’d grown to know so well I came across an author I’d never heard of before. His name was John Varley and the book I was holding was called Millennium.

I’m a sucker for a book or movie with a great concept, and Millennium had a dandy. In short, time travelers from a diseased future earth hop back in time to moments before big disasters, like the crash of an airliner, and they haul the people who are about to die to the future, where they can harvest them for spare parts. They then fill the seats of the doomed aircraft with crude clones whose only purpose is to become charred body parts. Neat idea, eh? An investigator for the airline notices some discrepancies with the crash wreckage, has a run in with some conspiracy nuts, and ultimately meets and falls in love with a troubleshooter who has come back in time from the future to smooth things over.

I read the book in one sitting, and then read it again enjoying the nuances. Varley isn’t the greatest scribe on the planet, but dang, I loved that book.

After things went seriously sour at NOW Comics I headed back east and hooked up with my old roommate, Tom Morgan. With the exception of some books for Byron Preiss, I couldn’t sell a thing. Tom came back from the 1988 San Diego Comic Con with a business card from a new publisher called New Comics Group. I wrote some stories for an anthology they were publishing called Asylum, and helped them develop a comic based on a fun (albeit short lived) animated series called The Bionic Six. My editor at New was Valarie Jones, one of the best editors and nicest people on the planet.

After a couple hundred telephone calls and hanging out during business trips Val made to New York, we were officially BFF (best friends forever, in case you don’t savvy Internet-speak). Things changed a lot for me when Val complained that she was going to be in Europe for an extended vacation and she didn’t have anyone at the New Comics Group office that could get the comics prepped and sent off to the printer. Prior to taking up writing for a living I had paid the rent as a graphic designer, plus I’d picked up a thing or two about getting books ready for print while doing time at NOW Comics, so I offered to help out. Val jumped at the chance.

Since I wasn’t exactly setting New York on fire, I figured I’d give California a spin, so I packed up everything I owned and Tom Morgan drove me to JFK. California was nothing like I’d expected. The New Comics Group offices were in a tiny town called San Mateo, located just south of San Francisco. A couple days after I arrived, Val and her boyfriend took off for Europe. With them gone, I officially didn’t know a soul in California. Val and her publishing partner shared a house with a bunch of people in a quasi commune situation. Nobody got paid but you had a roof over your head and one or two square meals a day.

With Val gone out of the country I was suddenly very lonely.

I didn’t have a car so I rode the bus to a sorry little mall a few miles away. Next to the sorry little mall was an even sorrier little movie theater, but my heart skipped a beat or two when I saw on the marquee that one of the movies playing was Millennium. Suddenly I wasn’t so lonely. Here was my old friend. Back in New York I’d half heard something about them doing a film adaptation, but in the rush of packing up and moving I’d totally forgotten.

Outside the sorry little theater I studied the movie poster and thought at first there had been some sort of mistake. The poster said that the movie starred former Charlie’s Angel angel Cheryl Ladd, and weird semi-country musician Kris Kristofferson.

That couldn’t be right. I was pretty sure I remembered all the major characters from the book and absolutely none of them could have possibly been played by Cheryl Ladd or Kris Kristofferson. No way-no how.

Still, there it was printed on real cardboard and in my face. Maybe I was remembering the book wrong. Whatever was going on, I bought a ticket to the next show. I spent a depressing hour walking around in a nearly deserted Sears store where everyone I made eye contact with seemed on the verge of suicide.

I made it back over to the theater a little early, but I wanted to get a good seat. I shouldn’t have hurried. I could have had any seat I wanted. I was the only person in the theater.

Two hours later I felt like I’d just walked away from a train wreck. I stumbled over to the bus stop shelter and tried to gather my senses about me. To call the movie I’d just witnessed ‘horrible’ would be giving it far too much credit. Whatever movie classification is five or six increments beneath ‘horrible’ would have been closer to the mark.

For a few fleeting moments I thought that perhaps the movie was supposed to be a comedy. Something like a Saturday Night Live skit. But, no. It was astounding how little emotion Kristofferson and Ladd managed to display. It was like they were wooden puppets.

This ordeal happened back in 1989 and to this day I don’t think someone could have made a worse movie if that was their intention from frame one.

Weeks later Valarie returned and live in California started to perk up. Those of you familiar with our history know that in the following years Val and I worked for First Comics in Chicago and Eclipse Comics back in California, and while all this was going on we made the jump from being BFF and roommates, to the happy couple we remain today. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary.

The moral of this story? Well, there is none, except that Millennium sucked like a Dyson.

20.3.06

I have a pet peeve--wanna see it?

My pet peeve’s name is Snarky. He lives under the stairs and I feed him bits of old cheese.

I’ve had the misfortune over the years to know people who simply couldn’t keep their big fat opinions to themselves. Wait, that’s wrong. Let me rephrase that. I’ve had the misfortune over the years to know people who couldn’t keep their big fat opinions to themselves, and these people seemed to go to great lengths to voice their opinions in the loudest, most absolute manner possible.

Contrary to what you may have read scribbled in marker on the bathroom wall in the men’s room of the Shell gas station at exit 47 of the New Jersey turnpike, I’m not what you’d call an American history aficionado, but, I do know that one of the principals this great country of ours was built on is freedom of speech. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I usually love to hear them, when delivered in a palatable form.

This is what I greatly dislike—
“I heard you talking to Emily about seeing the new Pauly Shore film. I saw it this weekend. Save yourself nine bucks. It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Certainly the worst in the Shore’s filmography. Only a complete moron would go to see a movie like that.”

This is what I like—
“I heard you talking to Juan about seeing the new Pauly Shore film. I saw it this weekend and didn’t care for it too much. I don’t think it’s the best movie that Shore has seen. You might be better off waiting for it on cable.”

If someone gives me their opinion, the last thing I want is to have the topic of discussion shaded with absolutes. Ben and Jerry didn’t get rich by selling one flavor of ice cream. Tastes as well as genital size differ from person to person. Plus, when you club someone over the head with an absolute you automatically put them on the offensive. If you tell the person with the opinion that you’re going to have a look see for yourself, or if you run into them a week later and they learn you went and saw the movie anyway, it means that you put absolutely no value on their opinion. It’s worthless. They should have saved their breath and kept their mouth shut.

I know someone who used to be guilty of the absolute opinion thing when it came to food. She fancied herself a chef, and no one’s cooking, and especially their baking, could hold a candle to what came out of her kitchen. I recall one incident in particular that took place at a company where we both worked. It was someone’s birthday, or some occasion where a cake had been brought in. We all were handed a slice and were chewing away, yum-yum-yum, when all of a sudden this person blurts out, “Oh my God! This tastes awful!” and tosses her slice of the cake into the trash. So there the rest of us stood. The cake tasted pretty darn good to me, but a cake would have to be pretty darn awful for me not to finish it, but because of her absolute declaration, the cake was horrible, and if we ate it we must be total idiots. She also put us the position that if we didn’t toss our cake into the trash as well, her opinion was meaningless to us and that we must have thought she was a fool.

I love hearing the opinions of others, especially if it leads to a debate, but iron clad opinions are turn offs for me. I don’t need for things to be candy coated, but please leave me some wiggle room to have my own point of view.

This all comes up because I think I was pretty absolute in my review of the film version of RENT. It may be on your list of the top ten movies of all time, landing right between Bio-Dome and Encino Man.

And that’s one of the reasons I love America so much.

Technology--there's no denying that it's for me!


I’m in awe of my new cell phone.

My thirteen-year-old daughter isn’t.

My iBook is two years old, but it still astounds me that I can be three our four rooms away from the Internet hub in the house and wirelessly download the preview for the new Superman movie in under a minute.

It still blown away that just a few hours ago I copied tonight’s episode of the Sopranos for a friend of my wife on our digital video recorder, and then burned the episode onto a DVD for her.

Again, none of this fazes my daughter, and this bothers me. Personal computers, video games, satellite television, digital watches and cordless phones all existed before she was born. She never knew a world without all this technology and she takes it for granted.

I grew up the son of a television repairman. When he was young my dad worked on a ice truck, and then a meat packing house. He only made it through seventh or eighth grade, but he wasn’t a stupid man, and when the chance presented itself in the late 50s for him to learn radio and television repair, he jumped on it and took to it easily. Back before solid state electronics there were only a few things that could go wrong with your television or radio. The electric cord became frayed or cut, the antenna got snapped off, or one of the tubes inside went bad.

Before the advent of the transistor radios, the older models were all AM and only had three or four of the little vacuum tubes inside. It was pretty easy to try switching out the most common tubes and you were back in business. The televisions were a little bit more complicated, but for the most part it was checking tubes and connections. More serious problems involved a bad picture tube, or a voltage regulator or some such affair.

My dad worked during the day at a radio and t.v. repair shop, and at night he did freelance repair. I used to go along with him on some of his calls. My job was primarily to sit in front of the television while he poked and prodded in the back. I held a mirror so he could see the image on the screen for reference. I also got to carry his toolboxes to and from the car.

The way it worked at the shop where my dad worked was that someone would bring in their radio or television (if it was a portable) to be repaired or to get an estimate. My dad and other employees at the shop would also bring in big floor model sets from customer’s homes if they couldn’t fix them there. Anyway, what would happen a lot of the time was that my dad would open up a television and call the owner to say that it was going to cost two hundred bucks to fix. The person on the phone would either tell him to go ahead and fix it or to keep it, because there was no way they were going to spend that much money on a hunk of junk. This meant that out behind the shop a massive stockpile of useless radios, tape recorders, record players and televisions would build up. Which was good for me.

When I was old enough to pick up and hold a screwdriver, I was opening up everything electronic in the house. Radios, telephones and record players. I must have had a knack for electronics because I managed to get most of them back together again in working condition.

Every summer my dad’s boss would have a big garbage dumpster delivered behind his store and hire me to come in and strip down the abandoned equipment for usable parts. This meant opening up the televisions, yanking out the tubes and speakers, and pulling the big fat yolk off the neck of the picture tube. This was valuable because it was loaded with copper wire. Later, after all the hard work was done I would go through all the little vacuum tubes that I’d yanked to see which were still functioning and could be saved. One of my favorite things about stripping down the televisions was pulling out all the big picture tubes. I would hoist them up as high as possible and drop them like bombs into the metal dumpster. Each one sounded like a bomb going off.

Some of the smaller electronic devices like radios and reel-to-reel tape recorders I’d take home with me to see if I could fiddle with them and get them working. I don’t think I ever succeeded, but I had a hell a lot of fun trying.

It was a good time, but then things got complicated. The printed circuit board come along and changed home electronics forever. Tiny transistors and resistors took the place of vacuum tubes. Radios and televisions became cheaper to buy, more expensive to repair, so easier to replace. If something breaks, don’t waste time and money getting is fixed, simply buy a new one.

My dad retired from the radio and television repair business just as the skills he’d learned over the years became useless. When we got our first VCR in the early eighties he couldn’t even figure out how to hook it up.

I have a real problem with technology being accepted as a given and taken for granted. When I was a kid and there was a moon shot, that’s all that was on television for that day. Coverage would start four or five hours before the launch, and continue on for three our four hours after liftoff. Today, when a U.S. shuttle goes up you’d miss the news about it if you blinked.

Maybe I’d turning into a cranky old man, but I watch my daughter chatting online with her friends, then download some new songs and put them on her MP3 player or on her phone. I try to point out what a miracle all this is and her eyes glaze over.

My new cell phone probably has more computing power in it than there was in the command module of those early space shots, but I use it to take pictures of my cats doing funny things around the house. It can access the Internet and the knowledge of thousands of years of civilization is in the palm of my hand, but I use it to download a song for my ringtone (Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax a.k.a. The Benny Hill theme song, no less). So maybe I’m no better than this clueless new generation who will soon be running things.

Still, I really am in awe of my new cell phone. I can’t wait for someone to call me.

19.3.06

Is it just me? Naw, it can’t be.

People I know. People I trust. People I would lend more than fifty bucks to. People I would pick up from the airport at three in the morning. People like these have told me how much I’ll enjoy film version of the Broadway blockbuster RENT.

I just finished watching the DVD and something’s wrong. Something is terribly wrong. I thought it stunk to high holy heaven.

Could so many people be wrong and I am the only one who is right?

Perhaps I have a disorder of the brain. Some sort of chemical imbalance that affects the way the neurons snap my synapses. But there would be signs other than conflicting views on Broadway musical, right? If I really had a brain disorder I would be doing things like filling my pockets with salad dressing, and naming and caring for my individual dandruff flakes.

No, the more I think about it the more I think I’m the one who is right and they’re the ones with Creamy Ranch oozing out of their Khaki pockets.

For starters, I think you should be able to sum up the plot of a good play in a single sentence, with less than fifteen commas. You can’t do that with the film version of RENT. I’m not certain that I can explain the plot if I had all night and half of tomorrow.

I also think you should be singing and humming songs from a good musical for days and weeks after seeing it. The only song from RENT that I can recall involves some sort of numeric equation. It was something about ten-thousand-three-hundred-forty-seven hours in a umm, something something something. There was a song the whole cast sang in a restaurant that was kind of catchy, but I forgot it as soon as I heard it.

Nearly all the songs in the movie version of RENT, and there were a lot of them, sounded exactly alike. And the thing of it is, there was no reason for half of them to even exist. For the most part, the songs they were singing consisted of chunks of dialogue these characters should have been sharing. I’m a firm believer that a good song can certainly move a play along, but I had the distinct impression that the playwright was afraid to have people sitting around talking, so he simply jammed the information he wanted to convey into a talky song.

It’s always nice to see Sarah Silverman in anything, and Taye Diggs is one of the more handsome men to set foot on planet earth, but their combined might could not hold my attention to the screen.

Perhaps everything made more sense on the Broadway stage. Perhaps there were plot elements and even some character growth that never made it to Hollywood.

And one last thing that I know will bother me for months to come unless I do a miniature exorcism right now; the character of the budding filmmaker drove me bonkers. He runs around the whole movie with a sixteen-millimeter movie camera, pulling it out of his bag and shooting from the hip at awkward moments. He mentions several times that he wants to make movies that make a difference, and there’s no way-no how he’s going to sell out to the man. Toward the end of the movie he starts spending some quality time on the Movieola, editing together his opus, and during one of the last songs of the movie he turns on the projector and lets it rip…and the whole film (that we see) consists of badly framed, badly out of focus, under and over exposed snippets of film. The guy’s pet project looked like it had been filmed and edited by some of the street people he’s so fond of filming.

Again, perhaps his movie serves as a terrific device in the stage production. I could see where it might. But I wasn’t lucky enough to see it on stage. I had to see it in my living room.

If I were into clich├ęs I would moan something about saying goodbye to two hours of my life that I’ll never see again.

Now I have to go find my Chorus Line CD and wash the madness away.