Archive for September, 2018

Interpreting the Classics

Beam us up, Thorin

This Saturday was International Hobbit Day. I celebrated by having a breakfast that would make a hobbit proud. It was the first day which resembled autumn, chilly, a bit blue and a bit gray, like the American Civil War in the sky. I snuggled up on my warm couch in my warm hobbit hole, ate, read, looked out the window, and didn’t expect much of anything to happen.

And nothing really did. At one point Burke asked if I wanted to celebrate International Hobbit Day by watching The Hobbit films or Lord of the Rings, but by then it was almost 11 a.m. and we wouldn’t have time to watch all 11 hours of either film series. It was, however, time for elevenses. So I made something to eat.

Up until I read The Hobbit when I was about ten, books mostly involved brothers who solved crimes with alliterative titles, trees that were very, sadly, maybe too generous. There were the normal kiddo picture books, the ones that taught me words, and the ones that taught me lessons like that if I thought I could, I could.

But The Hobbit was an adventure. Even the subtitle, There and Back Again, held some mystery. Where and back again? I was hooked, scared at times, and mystified. It was the first of many times that I chose a character in a book to “be,” so that I could take some small part in the adventure as well. (Dwalin. Totally lived, too.)

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, as we were enjoying cheese, crackers, and olives as our twoses treat, we went on a video search. And what we found was The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.

If you’re not familiar with this particular gem of interpretative art, it features Leonard Nimoy all but dressed as Dr. Spock (it was 1968), singing The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. It gets better. Assisting him in his, I guess, goal of retelling the story of Bilbo’s adventures, are several girls with pixie haircuts and pointy ears (whether they’re Vulcan or Hobbit we’ll never know), who dance spasmodically as if they had, in fact, taste-tested the brown acid that would appear at Woodstock a year later.

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Three Days of the Hangover

Pittsburgh International Airport. When I asked for a coffee a moment ago, the man must have misunderstood that for “unmanageable cup of molten lava.” I am now trying to push the integrity of the cardboard sleeve meant to protect my hands from 3rd degree burns. Problem: my hands are shaking. I put the coffee on a table and remove the lid.

A moment ago I was finally able to speak without actively pursuing advanced lexicon like “and” or “also.” “Please kill me” took five whole minutes, and I was fortunate enough that my friend had driven off before I could get it out.

I am in a confused daze, as if the world has suddenly upgraded to include a new dimension that my inner-technology has not prepared for. They call my flight. I give up on the coffee.

This is day one of the three day hangover.

Pittsburgh visits are always a bacchanalian visit to the good old days. Three days of beers, shots, sandwiches, and very little water; sensible choices were treated like the monsters of fairytale lore. And I knew what I was doing. Each shot was another nail in my coffin. Each beer would be answered for in the future.

The flight from Pittsburgh to Newark involves about 45 minutes in the air. If it were longer, I would be requesting a parachute from the drink cart.

Half of the jokes made by people over 40 is that things get harder/easier/harsher/ after that age. Heading that list is the hangover. People who could drink their weight in tequila at 21 and run a marathon the next morning marvel at how their 43 year old body barely deals with four light beers. I am in that camp. This is probably why I don’t overdo it that often. Oh, I still go out for beers with my friends and I’m never the one to turn down a shot. (Read: I am the one who suggests the shot). But in my day to day life, I can have drinks once a week and remain a reasonable member of society. Unlike my 21 year old self, it now takes a day or two to fully recover. A Friday night session means a Saturday of bad movies and overhydration. A really big Friday might means a Sunday of ibuprofen and poking at my liver.

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Unreal Dan in Unreal Life

It’s Friday. We’re in the mood for a light movie. We opt for a lighthearted rom-com with Steve Carell. Dan in Real Life. He’s a widower with a big goofy family. Dane Cook’s in there. How can you go wrong with all that?

Long story short, we go wrong with that.

Rule number one of storytelling is that you are true. True means that you have to make the actions of your characters believable. We suspend our disbelief every day to allow ourselves to settle into a good story and to let a good story settle into us. Flying crocodile-zebra hybrids attack earth? Sure. Julia Roberts’ character falls in love with Hugh Grant’s character? Why not. Twelve convicts drop behind enemy lines on June 5, 1944 to gunk up the Nazis? I shall get the popcorn. These two extraordinarily beautiful women are going to have their way with the pizza guy? They ordered a sausage pie, after all. Aaaaaalright…for the next 2 minutes and forty-three seconds.

And we will do this as long as what your characters are doing resonate with real life (you know, except for the porn because our genitals have different rules when it comes to real life). But if you break this rule, your audience is unforgiving. Last month I turned off the movie The Nice Guys because of the insanely implausible action of a character. Up until then the movie had been extremely fun to watch and I’d been giggling rather than shaking my head at its ridiculo-hilarious plot. But I just couldn’t get over that one unbelievable action.

While some of the interactions and actions of the characters do ring true, where Dan in Real Life fails on the (ahem) real life-o-meter is in its depiction of family. It has to be the corniest, most rigged family since The Waltons was on the air. Evidently, this family gets together once a year to play nine thousand competitive games, from guys against ladies crossword puzzle-offs to charades to sing-offs to scrabble to a mind-numbing-un-fucking-real talent show to top off all of the crap. There’s the obligatory family football game in the yard. A thing which I can stomach as long as it’s the only family oriented game, but when it comes at the end of this feel-too-fucking-good-a-thon it was just another nail in its unbelievable coffin. By the time Dane Cook (whose job it is, I guess, to run an aerobics class) leads the entire family in a synchronized aerobics class, I have had enough.

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Basic Impulse

Autumn Sprinkles: I never stood a chance

I’m standing in line at the supermarket in Langhorne and I am wondering exactly how it is that my cart is filled with the items it’s filled with. I am already marveling at the array of goods. The line is relatively long and some genius has made it so that we stand in a tunnel of goods that A. I do not need and B. I am slowly rationalizing a need for.

The Impulse Buy Trait has long run in my family. My mom goes shopping sixteen times a week and has a talent for the most random of gifts, with a particular fondness for things which illuminate, golf shirts, and tech gadgets. And so I have an abundance of flashlights and dehumidifiers. On a trip to Naples, my dad bought roughly thirty items of clothing. We’d be walking on the street and we’d turn to address him only to find that he was no longer with us. Moments later he’d come out of a tailor with a shirt, a pair of pants. Once he bought a suit and a hat. Haberdashers all over Naples must have hung his picture up for the others to prey upon. He could have clothed Hobbiton with his purchases over those three days. For sixty years, he has made the fatal mistake of only shopping when he’s hungry, so when he returns from a supermarket the strata of baked sweets and bags of candy resemble what would happen if a stoned fifteen year old found $100 in a supermarket.

My sister and I both got the gene. My sister Amanda’s impulse G-spot is Amazon and she will often order something on her phone seconds after it’s brought up in conversation. During my month at home the front porch resembled Stonehenge with the daily delivery of boxes and packages. Books, DVDs, knickknacks, appliances, workout equipment. Her bedroom looks like the aftermath of an explosion at a mail order catalog distributor.

Stonehenge by Amazon (delivery in 2-3 business days)

I have the gene as well. I can’t be trusted to go into a store by myself. This is primarily concerning supermarkets, but I have been known to walk into a clothing shop and walk out with a shirt and some shoes. I walk into a supermarket for avocados and walk out with a nonstick pan and four lightbulbs (and no avocados). The Czech genius who started putting individual shots of booze in the checkout line is my Lex Luther.

My impulse tendency is magnified when I visit the states, mostly because I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the supermarkets. Yes, we can shake our heads and groan at wasteful, mindless American consumerism, but to step into an American supermarket is to walk into a gastronomical heaven. The cracker aisle alone makes a Czech shop look like a homeless man’s garage sale.

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