22 November 2010

Your "Batman" VHS Can Buy a Drink

I meant to post this a few days ago and got the date wrong.  I thought about just posting this retroactively to the 15th, but I'm lazy.

1989.  Batman had already conquered the box office.  Warner Bros., hoping to strike while the iron was hot, elected to rush the home video release and give it a consumer-friendly, "priced to buy" MSRP.  You young kids and your DVDs take for granted that you can wait five months after a movie opens in theaters to watch it at home, but there was a time when the window between theatrical opening and home video release was much longer, and those VHS tapes were substantially more expensive.  We weren't meant to own VHS tapes; we were meant to rent them.  Batman changed that, released 15 November 1989 and priced at $19.99.

I turned 11 just two weeks later on 1 December, and it was the gift I wanted.  I didn't expect to get it, though; we weren't generally a "movie family."  My mom baked a Batman logo cake, and I got several Bat-gifts.  I couldn't tell you now what they were, but I know I got my VHS. I have no idea how many times I've watched my VHS.

Batman was my "sick" movie; I'd get a bug and spend an afternoon curled up on the couch (remember, this was an era when it was unusual for every kid to have his own home entertainment system in his room) and pop in my Batman VHS.  Sometimes I wouldn't even look at the TV.  It was comfort enough just to hear Michael Keaton say, "I'm Batman" or to hear Jack Nicholson ask, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"  Today, I can call to mind everything about any given scene, from Danny Elfman's score to the way Kim Basinger screamed.  It's the kind of obsession that only the young can have for a movie. If  Batman was a celebrity, I'd have been cautioned to stay 500 feet away from it.

In the years since, I've bought it on DVD and now own it on Blu-ray Disc.  Unlike nearly every other VHS title I ever owned, though, I haven't gotten rid of this one once I upgraded.  It isn't in High Definition.  It's pan & scan, for crying out loud!  Regardless, I can't bring myself to part with it.  And now, it's 21 years old.

18 November 2010

Most Individual (Male), 1997

My senior year of high school was the 1996-1997 academic year.  We began by casting votes for the senior favorites list.  At least, they did.  I didn't vote.  I was named "Most Individual (Male)."  I'm not sure if they expected it or not, but as far as I was concerned there was really only one response I could have had for this.  I declined to accept.  No one ever asked me if I wanted to be considered for their ballot, and as near as I can tell the yearbook staff arbitrarily selected the students for each category.  I never thought that was fair.  I read "Most Individual (Male)," saw I wasn't up for consideration as "Most Likely to Succeed (Male)" and individuality became a codeword for "novelty."  You're likely recalling Joe Pesci's "I amuse you?!" diatribe from GoodFellas at this point and I wasn't far from that.  Maybe that's not how it was meant, but that's how I took it.

I didn't really expect to win the category, so I let the whole thing transpire with nary an objection.  When it came to be that I'd been selected, it was high time to register my complaint.  A photographer from the yearbook staff came to get me and that's when I explained that I would not be participating.  I was referred to the teacher who oversaw the yearbook staff and I made my declination known to her.  Now, as it happened, I'd just had a bicycle accident (the bike stopped; I didn't...stupid hand brakes!) and I looked like Two-Face at the time.  She at first thought I was simply self-conscious about the way I looked and offered to delay the photo until I was healed. I clarified that I had no intention of taking such a photo regardless of what my face looked like; that, if anything, part of me was amused by the notion of taking it right then and there while I was so rough.

When my position was understood, it was met with cold anger.  I'd not taken a yearbook photo throughout my four years of high school.  You know that list of "Not Pictured" students at the end of the group?  She saw to it that I wasn't even included in that list in my senior yearbook.  To my knowledge, there's virtually no evidence from my senior yearbook that I even existed, much less attended school that year.  There is, however, a photograph of some students looking at the posted list of senior favorites.  You can clearly read my name as "Most Individual (Male)" on the list.  To this day, that amuses me.

16 November 2010

Novel Playlist: "Sideways" by Rex Pickett

Sideways is known for being about wine, but what is overlooked is how prominent music is referenced throughout Rex Pickett's novel.  I suspect this is because the film adaptation eschewed these pop songs in favor of Rolfe Kent's jazzy score.  For those who are interested in compiling a novel soundtrack, here is the list of all music mentioned.  Page numbers are cited from the softcover edition I own, ISBN: 0-312-34251-9.

  • "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac (p. 74)
  • "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones (p. 78)
  • "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James & The Shondells (p. 81) [Miles sings this at karaoke]
  • "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles (p. 175) ["In a vulnerable moment [Miles] thought pathetically of" the song]
  • "Canon" by Pachelbel (p. 341) [performed by an organist]
  • "The Way You Look Tonight" (p. 344) [performed by a jazz ensemble]

  • Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by Flaming Lips (p. 50) ("the new Flaming Lips CD" If we reckon "new" to refer to the early 2000s, then this is the likeliest entry in their discography)
  • Long Distance by Ivy (p. 240)
  • Bavarian Fruit Bread by Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions (p. 288: "Then I...put Hope Sandoval in the CD player..." could be a reference to her recordings with Opal or Mazzy Star, but it seems reasonable to assume the remark refers to her solo debut album, released in 2001; her second was not released until 2009, years after the publication of Sideways)

Other Music References
  • "I Got So Drunk the Gal Left Town" by Merle Haggard (p. 88) [not real; Jack invents it to make a sarcastic point to Miles]
  • "Jack was in an ebullient mood all the way back, drumming his hands on the steering wheel  and singing out loud to a CD I wasn't familiar with." (p. 110)
  • "...a romantic ballad belted out by Tom Jones" (p. 143) [we're told that "Terra's going through a Tom Jones phase" on p. 144; Maya and Miles briefly discuss him and on p. 146 it's noted that, "Tom Jones crooned away," suggesting that one side of a Jones album had been playing the whole time]
  • "She selected a jazz compilation CD to cleanse the air of Tom Jones." (p. 148)
  • "Maudlin classic rock from the '70's saccharined the emptiness with its plangent strains, further sickening me." (p. 180)
  • "...while classic rock assaulted them over the stereo system." (p. 282)
  • "music filled the church again" (p. 342); "...the organ music faded..." (p. 343)

08 November 2010

Go Fish. I'll Stay Here.

I hate fishing.  Always have.  I hate baiting a hook with live worms because it seems odd to me to kill one animal to maybe catch another that I have every intention of then immediately releasing back into the water.  Plus, unlike artificial bait, the live ones squirm, making it all the likelier I'll injure myself.  I can't get mad at the worm, of course; I'd try to make the guy impaling me hurt himself, too.

Beyond this squeamishness, there's the fact I just don't care about fishing.  Committing oneself to a singular stationary place around a body of water doesn't do it for me.  It's not that I'm an impatient person that's the problem; it's that I'm entirely uninterested in the task of fishing.  I have no problem being in quiet isolation for hours on end.  It probably hasn't helped that I've never been lucky with fishing.  Allow me to regale you with my last attempt, circa summer 2002, that serves as a perfect microcosm of my failed experience as a fisherman.

My brother was fairly excited to go fishing one summer afternoon and I decided I'd give it a go.  Just him and me; we'd never done that before.  Previously, there had always been someone older around supervising.  Enough years had passed, though, that we were long past that point in our lives.  He had gear enough to spare, so I grabbed a ballcap to keep out the sun and away we went.  I was somewhat whimsical when I selected my Brad Paisley cap, as he was riding high on "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)" at the time.  We headed off on a high note.  This time, I was gonna enjoy myself.

We trotted on over to a little pond nearby and set up some folding chairs.  The line on one of the rods was severely tangled, so my brother handed me the one that was ready to go--kindly enough, he baited it for me--and I was in the water.  It took him probably ten minutes to completely untangle his line and get it baited, during which I had failed to elicit so much as a ripple from a fish aware of my bait.  Oh, well, I figured; it was late afternoon and maybe they just weren't biting.  Fine with me; I could just chill in the foldout chair for a bit.

If you don't see where this story is headed by now, I'd advise you to stay away from Scooby-Doo; those plot twists might blow your mind.  Within a minute of casting his line, my brother had a bite.  He reeled in a bass, I believe, roughly about 8-10" in length.  To his credit, he said nothing to me about it.  He just unhooked it and returned it to the water and began to bait his hook.

A few moments later, I had one.  I reeled it in, and knowing I was too inexperienced at actually catching a fish to know how to handle it properly, Adam intervened once I had it out of the water and spared me the hassle of removing it.  I figure his graciousness had earned a moment of humor so I (jokingly) complained, "You know what pisses me off?  I was in the water a good ten minutes before you, and you've already had one by the time I got this one."

Without hesitating, my brother added, "Mine was bigger, too."

What could I do but laugh?  Mercifully, rain began to fall about fifteen minutes after that--during which he'd caught a second fish and re-tangled his line--so we called it.  I haven't picked up a rod since, and frankly can't imagine doing so unless I find myself in some kind of strange post-zombie survival situation.

06 November 2010

Tis the Season for Selfishness and Judgment

While browsing Amazon the other night, I happened to glance at the Customer Discussions: Gold Box Forum and I saw a topic titled, "What's a good Christmas gift idea for an 11 year old who has everything?"  I don't know why I felt the need to see what some of the ideas were, since there are no 11 year old boys who have everything on my shopping list.  I confess part of me just wanted to know what, in her world, constituted "[having]" everything."  Here's what the original poster ("OP" for those in the know about forum slang) had to say:
My son has everything. He has an iPod, a DS, Xbox 360, Wii, and we even fixed up one of our old PC's so he has his own computer. 
I am at a loss for what to get him this year. His birthday was in August and he got all of the video games that he wanted. He's got a new bike and he's not really athletic so any other sporting goods aren't an option. I just don't know what to get him. Any ideas? I'm willing to spend up to around $200 for his gift.
WWUJD? (What Would
Uncle Jesse Do?)
I don't even care to guess how many posters have replied by saying she should take her son to volunteer at a soup kitchen (apparently, they saw that episode of Full House and it stuck with them).  Just as many have slammed the mother for lavishing her kid with so many high priced electronics.  Some are appalled by what they perceive to be a lack of humility; others, by a materialistic obsession.  A minority have suggested things like a handheld GPS device so that mom and son can take up geocaching (whatever the hell that is).  I personally suggested taking the kid to a Christmas-themed play or ballet, like "A Christmas Carol."  She can even include a new suit and make dressing up for the occasion part of the gift.  Experiences are more important than things, but that's just my philosophy.

This, of course, got me to wondering about the implications of that family.  $200.00 for the "big gift" may well be more than a lot of families can afford for all their kids this year.  I personally know a guy who drops $500 apiece on his two kids every Christmas, and he's firmly lower-middle class.  Everyone's budget and priorities are different.  Knowing the retail prices of the devices the OP mentioned adds up to a hefty sum, but we don't know which models he has (an iPod Shuffle is $49; an iPod Touch is $249), or when he received them, or that they all came from mom.  Conceivably, a grandparent gave the X-Box for his last birthday, an aunt, the Wii in 2008 and so on.

You could give 249 McDoubles to the
hungry instead of buying this.
More importantly, we don't know anything about the kid himself.  The temptation is to say, "No 11 year old needs all that," and that it can only lead to him appreciating nothing in life and becoming a narcissistic monster one cold pizza away from becoming a serial killing sociopath.  Maybe.  But I've been a kid once, and I know several.  There's simply no causal relationship between how many things a kid owns and whether or not he appreciates them.  I've known kids who had everything under the sun that were clearly headed for that life of egocentricity, but I've also known many who genuinely understood how fortunate they were and fostered a sincere respect for it.  Conversely, I've known kids who treasured their few belongings and others who took such poor care of the few things they owned that I had a moral problem wasting the money on things for them to trash within a week.

What is it about us, then, as a society that we feel entitled to pass such judgments based on so little information about someone we don't know?  One poster in the thread attributed it to mere jealousy, and I think that's partly it.  Surely, it's got to rub a lot of people the wrong way to read something that smacks of frivolity during a time of such economic hardship.  There are millions of people anxious about whether they'll even still have a home for Christmas, much less a tree in the living room with gifts under it.  To know some 11 year old kid will be adding yet another $200 video game console to his massive collection of them just feels insensitive.

On the other hand, I'm of the mind that I do not begrudge anyone their good fortune (unless they mistake their being lucky along the way for evidence that they're a better person than those less fortunate, in which case I despise them and wish I could be there when the truth is revealed to them).  For all I know, this woman singlehandedly has kept a business afloat that employs a hundred people who, thanks to her efforts, are not among those who will go to bed tonight afraid this will be their last month as a homeowner. Maybe she's a researcher trying to cure Crohn's disease.  Then again, maybe she's nothing more than a trophy wife and her husband is one of the villains of the economic collapse who managed to get away with murder.  Since I don't know any of this to be true, I don't feel entitled to pass judgment on her.  To be honest, even if I did know any of that to be true, I still wouldn't feel qualified to pass judgment.

Actually, it's been my experience with Crohn's that has sharpened that philosophy.  There are quite a lot of foods I've had to give up, including salads (leafy greens are a recipe for a complete blockage) and chili (hurts way too much).  My wife has shied away from eating those things around me, trying to be sensitive.  It's sweet of her, but misguided.  The bottom line is, I can either eat or not eat a given food whether the entire world eats it or not.  What good does it do me for her to not eat a salad in front of me?  How would a less fortunate family benefit from that 11 year old boy not getting a $200 video game console for Christmas?

Several people have insisted she should donate the $200 to a charity, or have the son spend the money on things for Toys for Tots, etc.  We don't know anything about the family's charitable giving from her original post (though it is later stated that they do, in fact, make a point of charitable donations).  I would posit that we are not entitled to demand she, or anyone, make such a contribution.  I personally am reluctant to donate more than a dollar or so at a time to any given charity because I frankly am too suspicious that it will ever actually manifest itself in a meaningful way.  I've done the odd good deed here or there, but I consider it vulgar to cite any examples here and anyway, I resent being made to feel that I should prove my generosity to anyone.  I suspect most of us feel the same way, and yet there's clearly a sense that if you're going to tell us how many expensive things your son already owns, you owe us a donation slip to offset your selfishness.