Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Obligatory Blog Post

Sometimes, I feel like I really should put up a blog post.... but I don't particularly have a topic.

Such is the case at the moment. Then again, I seldom let a lack of coherence stop me from writing about anything else. Why change now? I have no good reason to do that either.

And there you are: People feel too compelled to have a good reason to do things.

Sure, you're compelled to have a job (most of you, I suppose) since you want frivolous things like food and a roof over your head. Some of you even buy clothes. There are a few that don't that I sincerely wish would, but I haven't the heart to tell them. Actually, it's just that I haven't found THE most snide way to put it to them, and I have my standards, after all. Admittedly, not very many and most of them are low (below the belt), but I have some.... written down.... around here somewhere.

Outside of life's necessities, and even during them, there's a remarkable tendency to do things the way people expect you to; to say what one would not be surprised to hear such an one as you say. I can't think of a single good reason for this. Where's the style, where's the originality in that? How much inane boredom can a person take? When someone asks you "How are you this morning?", is it actually required for you to give them a straight answer? Instead of saying "Fine." when it isn't true, come up with a metaphor or simile that will make them think and respect you. Something like "I'm as defenestrated as a stale bagel".

Right off, they have to head to the dictionary, because chances are good that they don't know that "defenestrate" means to throw something out of an upper-story window. It's a great word. So now, you've done them the service of stimulating their mind first thing in the morning (kudos to you if they're not a "morning person". I myself am so bad in that respect that I am immune to all vocabulary before at least 10:00) and creatively telling them that you're not so great. If you're a stale bagel, you're already feeling pretty bad about yourself; being thrown out of a window is rubbing salt in the wound. At best, someone will pick you up and throw you in a refuse container next to some dog fewmets from the park in a leaky bag from Kroger's, where someone actually, for once, cleaned up after their dog. That sounds pretty awful, but it isn't as bad as being chowed down upon by a Chow Chow, and eventually becoming dog fewmets.

So, when you tell your office mate that, in effect, you feel like you're on the verge of becoming dog fewmets, you've darn well answered the question with considerable style. Does that make you better than they are, because they asked such a normal question in such an unimaginative fashion? Yes. Yes, it does.

This is more difficult at social events, where the question may be more metaphysical, more probing, more than just a drive-by check of your existential angst. In these cases, it's a lot of fun to use what I call "The Dangling Rebound". An example: A person strolls up to you at a cocktail party, having not seen you in six weeks, three days, 8 hours and an odd number of minutes. She asks "How are things going?" You, instead of replying with some banal syllable like "Fine.", fire back "Well, you know how it is...." Of course she doesn't know how it is, that's why she just asked you. The upshot of the situation is that she cannot, without looking slightly foolish, come back and say that she doesn't, and repeat the question. Personally, I pick that ball up and run with it, and jab back with something akin to "Have you stopped taking your medication, then?" Imagine yourself on the receiving end of that one. It sounds bad if you say "Yes" because you're 1) Admitting that you were on medication, and 2) saying that you were dumb enough to stop doing what your board-certified physician swutting well told you to do. If you say "No", then you're still admitting that you need medication.

What's wrong with taking medication? Nothing at all, of course. I myself rattle when I walk due to the plethora of pills that I inhale each day. The thing is, there are rules about where you can discuss medication safely, and where admitting to taking medication is an abominable breach of etiquette. Cocktail parties are one of those places. You don't need to be revealing things about what drugs you're taking, because that vodka-kiwi juice martini in your hand is a drug, and your co-conversant knows that. At a cocktail party, it's a given that you're allowed to presume, without any justifiable reason, that the medication in question should never, never be mixed with alcohol. Thus, having pinned the poor victim down with the medication question, you can now put on an air of high dudgeon and glare at them sternly for being so foolish. Either way.

Is this necessary? No. Is it fair? Depends on who ends up hanging on the end of the rope, unable to speak further, and obliged to shuffle away and find some nice "normal" person to talk to. You don't want this to be you! Weird them out forthrightly and with panache! They'll need considerable chutzpah to try to keep up with you. This, they will be unable to do, for they cannot now answer something like "Fine." to the question "How are you doing?" because they have the same crestfallen look as a defenestrated bagel. Even a "normal" person knows the rules there; they are then entitled to kick you while you're down because you patently lied. This is a bit bizarre, considering that 88% of all conversation at a cocktail party is lies, especially where matters sexual are involved. That doesn't matter in this case. If you've made the dread mistake of picking your wife to shuffle back to, then she's allowed to dredge things back up like that time ten years ago when you washed her underwear in with some red exercise sweats and turned them pink. Never mind that she's the one who left them rolled up in there where you couldn't have seen them, never mind that nobody but you, her and Wee Willie Winkie ever see that underwear, never mind that it cost $3.09 at Wal-Mart. By law in 49 of the 50 states (in Louisiana, under the Napoleonic Code, women are forbidden to wear underwear), she is allowed to scream at you like a Gloucester fishwife, causing you more embarrassment than that time you mistakenly took the sauna at your boss's house for an unusually warm powder room.

Is there anything to be learned from all of this? Indeed, there are at least two:

1) Never get so drunk at your boss's house that you can inadvertently ruin $2,000 worth of imported cedar. Nothing good will come of it.
2) Never give your wife such an easy target. She'll bring up the underwear every time, and do you really need to have all your co-workers see you get dressed down over some now-fossilized unmentionables, which have now been ironically mentioned at the top of your wife's lungs?

In fact, the best advice may be to avoid cocktail parties altogether. The rules are terribly complex, and you can probably do without the alcohol, anyway. Besides, if you happen to run into someone such as myself, who is a terminal wise guy, you're going to wind up being that poor slob with the underwear being thrown in his face.

Knowing that, is it completely necessary that I set this tragic set of circumstances in motion?

Unfortunately, yes. Those are the rules.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Lack of Suspense Is Killing Me

It almost always starts off with some chick running through the woods at night.

This is not a problem, as most people like chicks. I know I do. Nine times out of ten, the young woman is a brunette (heaven forbid they knock off a blonde first) and lightly built, so as not to give herself a couple of black eyes before she gets killed. Naturally, we get only the briefest glimpse of the monster or cranky Avon saleslady who'll be terrorizing us (or not) for the rest of the film or TV show.

We fall for this crap over, and over, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I don't think the introduction, as such, scares anyone anymore. Even my cat can't be bothered to stop licking its butt long enough to get caught up in it, scary music stings and all. "Get to the monster already!" people have cried for years. Only then would we deign to be scared, and only if the monster was good. This, too, has gone the way of all rotting flesh, and for a couple of major reasons: One, the bloody (sic) sequels. The "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the Thirteenth" series add up to around fifty movies. How frightening can Freddie be anymore? Two, thanks to computer graphics, they can now create anything that the mind can conceive, and we've been using them up at a rapid pace. The above films introduced unbridled gore and blood; now, we have explicitly detailed monsters and mayhem. This reached its artistic peak in the original "Jurassic Park", when the T-Rex smashed a restroom and chomped a lawyer right off of the can and ate him. Oh, how we cheered! Unfortunately, after that, the shark had been jumped.

No, there's simply a limit to what the special effects can sell. I hate to be picky, but have you pimply-eyed boys (I know what I said) in that dark room with your computers considered contacting a writer (hint hint) and inserting, say, an actual story? Scary movies aren't scary anymore, so they've resorted to other things to sell tickets:

-Sex. Duh.
-Wit and humor. Snappy dialogue. Defiant humor. Suggesting that the monster use some mouthwash, for God's sake.
-Getting us to sympathize with the monster instead of the people, most of whom deserve what they get, because they're lawyers or something.

OK, this will hold up for a while, until we hit the day when a movie comes out that has a scene where the monster breaks into a bedroom at a very inopportune moment, where a couple of lawyers are getting it on, the woman looks up and says "I don't do threesomes" and they get eaten.

You people have filthy minds, I was not going there.

I wonder if, at some point when nobody is making any money off these beastly horror movies, someone recall the existence of something called "the suspense movie". Hitchcock. That sort of thing. It's what you don't know and can't see that's most terrifying. Modern horror flicks simply give us too much information for them to have any mystery about them. It isn't that it hasn't been tried in recent years. Brilliant Internet marketing aside, and whatever you may have thought of it, "The Blair Witch Project" was not a monster flick at all; it was a suspense film. We never got to see what was after them (Those of us who know about such things knew that it was a wibawa). Thus, the blood-and-gore (not Al) addicted college crowd who were in the audience when I saw it actually booed it at the end. Clearly, they were expecting some slashing and a lot of fake blood (which is cheap and easy to make). Not this time, kids; the filmmakers clearly meant to leave you with as many questions as the characters had when they got offed.

How bad have things gotten? As an example, the SciFi channel has this evening descended to the depths of showing something called "Ice Spiders". Quod erat demonstrandum.

Until things improve, the nice brunette running through the woods is going to have to get shredded, fried or disintegrated by herself. If she had any sense, she wouldn't be running through the woods in the dark in the first place. I'm going to be watching the History Channel instead, where things might not make much more sense, but at they have the novelty of having actually happened. However, even that will wear off after a while. Why?

Because history repeats itself.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

All Eyes Are On....

If I hear that phrase ONE MORE TIME from a meteorologist talking about a tropical storm or a hurricane, I'm going to scream.

I'm going to be doing a lot of screaming.

Last Friday was the official start of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, and just to make it official, we had a tropical storm around town: Barry. Now, I won't say anything bad about Barry, as it brought us some desperately-needed rain. We've been under drought conditions for a long time, and there have been wildfires burning in southern Georgia and all over Florida, to the extent that we've had unhealthful air warnings due to smoke. During this time, these same TV weather people, who go ape trying to scare the crap out of us during the hurricane season on the slightest excuse, were saying that "we sure could use a tropical storm to make up for the rain shortfall".

That was actually a fair assessment, even if it sounds illogical to those of you not in Hurricane Alley.

Ah, but let June 1 roll around, and the same boring old cliches are brought out, the same stock footage, and the exact same recordings of emergency officials saying what people should do. However, lots of people don't do anything at all, even when a serious storm threat is hanging over our area. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

-They're just plain stupid.
-They think "it can't/won't happen here". See the above.
-They're under the impression that using masking tape forming an "X" on their windows will somehow shield them from 100 mph winds. See the first entry.
-They can't afford to, or are not physically able to. There are quite a number of people who fall into this category, and practically nobody says or does anything about it. The public officials who allow this to continue? See the first entry.
-They're sure that they can get all the supplies and do all the work at the very last minute. Once again, see the first entry.

I could go on (and keep on referring to the first entry), but what I'm driving at is this: The TV weather people have got a lot to answer for, because they're boring millions of people to tears with the same old drek every time a storm comes up. They're so bored, in fact, that they've been lulled into an inactive stupor. Who needs an entire summer of reruns when lives are at stake?

Am I being hypercritical? Probably, but hyperbole is almost always funnier than reality.

Can't they inject a little more personal style and individuality to all this 24/7 coverage? And how about some brutal honesty? That would keep people guessing. Change the usual verbal exchanges and video, and it'd be a lot more likely to make an impression on people.

For example:

Instead of saying: "People who choose not to evacuate in time may find themselves stranded."
How about: "If these people don't get off this barrier island NOW, they're frigging well going to DIE, Jim. Maybe they deserve to, if they have so little sense."

Now, THAT'S brutally honest. Mind you, islanders are strange and stubborn people; I ought to know, but at least Aquidneck Island is big, with plenty of safe spots, not like some barrier island whose apex is two feet above sea level. Still, this might save a few lives, and any number saved is good.

Now, what about the poor fools that they have stationed around various points where the storm may strike, standing outside to report conditions. I do kind of like that, as you can directly see how it would be if you were stupid enough to be standing out there unprotected. Oh, I wouldn't do it, but I'm still curious. I think that they should be allowed to be more blunt and less professional, and to complain bitterly that they have to do this in order to keep their jobs. Clearly, these people have no union. "The winds have gotten up to 65 mph, and the rain is flaying skin from my face. I am SO going to sue the station. Nobody should be out here, so screw you guys, I'm going home." Not so polite, but it does at least demonstrate that anyone with sense would not be outside with a swutting video camera, recording the carnage as it happens. They know no better because the news people are enablers, with their crews outside. Well, then, it must be safe for us, eh? Let's cut this crap out right now.

Naturally, there'll always be private individuals out there with cameras and video, and the TV people might as well point out that some of them are going to get killed. "Linda, he's standing too close to where the waves are breaking- oh, there he goes. What an idiot!" There's a term for this process: "Natural selection". You! Out of the gene pool, NOW!

Lastly, let's get a hold of the IT professionals who are constantly tweaking the computer programs used to make the forecasters' visual displays and lock them in a Chuck E. Cheese somewhere. I don't need to see sixteen different versions of the radar image, just show me where the stupid storm is! Show us the eye, rain, wind speed, and direction, and leave us alone with all the other flashing colors. People are having seizures out here.

Besides, among all their other bad thinking, the weather people are missing out on a money-making opportunity. They're always revising the forecast, especially about when & where the storm will make landfall. You know good and well that they have a betting pool going at the station on this, so why not let the public in on it? Charge five bucks a guess, lie like crazy about how many people entered, pay the winner and keep the "overhead" for yourself.

Mostly, pray that there won't be another Katrina. But for heaven's sake, prepare as if there will be, and that it's going to come your way. Oh, you can count on the TV weather people to be all over the place, but as for a major rescue response? Keep in mind who's in the White House. Then refer way back up to the first entry on the list of explanations above. It does seem to apply to a lot of people, doesn't it?