December 2009

It’s Movie Time! Bon Appétit!

My time of year. Movie time. A plethora, a cornucopia of good movies to take in. I know, personally know, folks who won’t go to a movie by themselves. No fun, don’t-cha see. Too lonely. By myself!?! Just can’t do it. These are smart people. I simply shake my head in disbelief. I can see the need for a partner when, oh, making love (going solo will take you all the way but only so far) but for the life of me I fail to grasp why viewing a movie in a darkened theater requires companionship. To make “that” particular experience genuinely worthwhile. Sigh.

Ticket prices are $10 a pop these days. New York City prices except they are not. In NYC, you’ll pay a couple of dollars more. Any number of acquaintances will say to me, “I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD.” They will forgo the expense of the theater experience to save money by waiting for it to be on Netflix. Pretty soon, you’ll download all movies online. Regardless, I love Netflix because just about every imaginable old (released) movie is available but I much rather see movies on the big screen. Always have and I imagine I always will.

Growing up we had three theaters in downtown Sioux City (The Orpheum. The Capital. The Hollywood.) and I could get into each, free. Open back doors. Up fire escapes. Find ticket stubs on the street, walk in holding two stubs and pretend as you approach the usher that you ripped the ticket in two. I personally thought that one up. Regardless, I’ve seen at least two movies a week from the time I was age 13. What fun.

For a couple of hours, you give it up. It’s story telling. It’s release. It’s forgetting what might be “troubling” you. It’s fiction. It’s human. It’s about possibilities. It’s life. It’s art. It’s quintessentially American. Jazz and movies, America’s transformational gifts to the world.

I like everything about the movies except the price of popcorn. And coke and candy. A small of each, a small popcorn and a Coke will run you between $8 and $9. OBSCENE! That is obscene. What’s worse is what they have done to the product. I grew up eating popcorn at home. Jolly Time Popcorn’s national headquarters is in Sioux City. Orlando has Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc.), Sioux City has Jolly Time Popcorn and Sioux Bee Honey! Take that O-Town! My brother still buys 50 pound bags of Jolly Time when he is back “home” for popping down Floreeeda way.

Popcorn properly prepared is not a health hazard but buy a medium-sized bag at Regal Cinemas and according to “the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest consuming some popcorn and drinks combos is the equivalent of consuming three McDonald’s quarter-pounders topped with 12 pats of butter. The CSPI said in a statement that a medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal, the United States’ biggest movie theater chain, contained an eye-popping 1,610 calories and around 60 grams of saturated fat.”

My gawd! 1600 calories for a popcorn and a coke! I don’t think so. I inwardly chuckle anytime I see Mr. and/or Ms. Tubby walk into a theater carrying a SUPER-JUMBO-COMBO. Each. Each are carrying enough calories to feed a Bangladesh family of four for a week. And up they waddle to their seats. I have to believe the movie experience is somewhat incidental to the consumption of food. Much as the cruise ship experience (Is it time to eat yet?) is incidental to being on the ocean. Yet . . .

Once, decades ago, I was in a St. Louis movie house near Forest Park (The St. Louis Zoo and adjoining art museum, alone, are well worth the trip to that city). Fine institutions. I had settled in and just as the previews started (love movie previews) in walks a rather rotund chap carrying a paper sack. He proceeds to loudly unwrap a complete Chinese meal (white containers et al) and consumes it on the spot. The smells are to die for. Staggeringly fragrant. It was almost too much when watching the film. It was a real eye (nose, too!) opener as to what “a” movie experience could be. Film and real food! To close out this story, our now satiated (burp, burp) patron proceeds to light up a cigar which has me immediately telling him to put it out. It got a bit gnarly but suffice it to say, the rest of the audience was with me.

When movie houses moved into malls you could easily buy a cup of coffee at an adjoining Star Bucks but it becomes a challenge to get said cup of coffee into the theater. More than once I was told that non-theater food is not allowed. I find such restrictions offensive. I do. I’m buying a movie ticket not a monopoly on my preferences (food and/or beverages in this case).

On the spur of the moment last week I decided to see the new Meryl Streep comedy, “It’s Complicated.” I had just purchased a genuinely great loaf of bread, some cheese and a small container of cut-up watermelon. What’s a guy (gut) to do? What a great movie! The food was sublime too! And did I mention, so much more healthy than cinema popcorn. Take that Regal Cinemas!

I used to pop my popcorn at home and carry it in a grocery sack to the movies. I guess I’ll be forced to do so again. If you are discreet, you can carry a small delecatesin into a theater. Which I have on occasion done. I recommend leaving the mustard jars at home. Silverware, too.

I’m telling people to see “Avatar.” Make sure you see it in the 3-D version. And, if you can, see it 3-D IMAX, so much the better. Visual eye candy.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Up In The Air,” with George Clooney. Nice twist at the end. Oh, why can’t women be more like men!?! What?

I want to see “The Road” before it leaves town. Author Cormac McCarthy spins a good yarn (read, too, his novel “All The Pretty Horses.”) The Enzian Theater currently has a highly praised movie on Orson Welles (“Me and Orson Welles”) I want to catch. Jeff Bridges is in an appealing new flick titled “Crazy Heart” that has yet to be released in Orlando. Bridges seems like a guy at ease with himself. I like that.

If you missed “A serious Man,” the recent Coen Brother’s movie, do see it. Fantastic dialog. And, “seriously,”—HA!—if you ever think things can’t possibly get worse, well, this film will disabuse you of any such hopefulness.

Regardless, great time of the year to go to the movies! And Bon Appétit!

A Christmas Tale From Christopher Robin.

I never get invited to Christmas Parties any more. And I so like a good parteee. And who doesn’t? Stick-in-the-muds, that’s who. Actually, I don’t think folks entertain as much as previous generations of Americans did. People don’t know how to cook or entertain or to have a soiree that doesn’t makes them simply too nervous. It’s hard for some to host events and at the same time enjoy themselves. So, why do it? I can briefly feel that way on occasion when the numbers get over twenty for a sitdown.

And, of course there is the expense. Just about any intimate dinner is a two hundred dollar bill. Minimum. It is. Some have their parties catered but that’s not my cup of tea, so to speak. You cater fundraising events for politicians and charities, not gatherings of friends. But that’s me. A good parteee is, indeed, work but at the end of the night, if you still have all your silver, well worth it, one hopes. HA! HA! I joke about the silver. Although, who ever has my grandmother’s large serving spoon, please return it. HA!

And, then, of course. There are the unintended incidents. People crying over dessert, “No, no, it’s not too sugary!” Or just crying and then walking out the front door. I soooo love it when couples bring their “lives” to the parteee and, you know, their “lives” right then and there get the better of them. And, of the rest of us, too. And off “they” go to the races. It could be entertainment except you care for the combatants. Sigh.

I like “good” minds at a parteee. I’m not so much into acrimonious debate as I am intelligent discussion. As opposed to intelligent design. Ha! Actually, I cannot even imagine a parteee composed of “intelligent design” adherents? It would seem like the science of turning on an electric oven might be too much for them. Be kind Chris. No. Not with the braindead. A parteee of zombies? Hey Now! Maybe that is a potential movie plot. Who actually becomes a zombie in the future? Creationists!?! Dead before and dead again!

I used to have a conversation once or twice a year with my lunch buddy, John Fisher. We’d discuss who we would invite for dinner, if we could invite anyone from history? It would be a parteee of eight. I quickly honed in on Ava Gardner as a regular. John agreed as our taste in beautiful women ran along the, uh, same lines. Dorothy Parker. Oscar Wilde. Voltaire. Mark Twain. Jefferson (when feeling social). Possibly Cleopatra. Marcus Aurelius. Smart, witty repartee. A Repartee Parteee!

Actually, this would be a fun parteee to host. Come as your character and be in character.

But, back to the larger question of why I am no longer invited to Christmas Parties. A true story follows. A year or two ago twenty or so adults are gathered around a piano in the host’s home and just before we are about to sing Christmas carols the host suggests we all tell a story from our past about how our families celebrated X-mas. What fun I’m sure the host innocently thought! Sigh.

Herein follows: A Christmas Tale From Christopher Robin.

Once upon a time there was a young lad of fourteen. He was the youngest of four beautiful (It’s my story and I’m partial.) children, the offspring of Chris and Marybelle. The parents were living the lives that so many adults at times live when their dreams and aspirations are suspect and the person you find yourself with disappoints. The parents undoubtedly loved one another but were in a state of transition.

Now Christmas was no longer the same as it once was when all the children were small and all of life’s problems were just that. Small.

Oh, there was joy and happiness and laughter and frivolity because that was the inherent nature of that household. But the “blush” was definitely off the bloom of the holiday and nowhere was that more evident than in the Christmas tree ornaments.

Once shiny and sparkley ornaments were now chipped and faded. The lights were an incoherent ragtag assortment of mid-1950s bulbs. They too were scraped and scratched and would randomly flicker on and off. A metaphor for marriage? They were more the lights and ornaments of a down & out homeless shelter. It was so sad.

Now the hero takes it upon himself to upgrade, unify and to again make splendorous, the family Christmas tree. Working since age 12, he always had a sufficient jingle in his pocket. And over two weeks in early December he invests $12-$14 dollars in new ornaments, a princely sum then. He decides on a blue/green theme and buys coordinated lights and bulbs. The tree is set up and “WOW” is the desired and achieved effect. It is beautiful. It glitters. It glows. It’s modern! It’s a wonderful life!

Every night, our lad lays down on the couch and with his head on a pillow drifts in and out of holiday revelry, in and out of sleep watching the beautiful tree he created twinkle and sparkle, much as an incandescent jewel. He sleeps the sleep of the innocent, of the good. And, soon it will be Christmas day!

One late Saturday night finds our lad warmly ensconced on the couch, bathed in the cozy glow of the tree he created. He dreams no doubt of sugar plums (high school girls). But? What’s this? Out of the fog of sleep he hears his parents heatedly arguing. He hears their feet on the porch. He hears the front door open, he hears the accusatory tone and the anger. One gives, the other reciprocates. The ying and yang of all things. Indeed.

And then, with sleep still in his eyes, he sees his Mother pick up a cushion off the hallway couch and toss it at his Father who deftly ducks and then what happens, happens in slow motion action as the pillow travels the length of the living room and slams into the Christmas tree.

Back and forth it rocks before crashing to the floor with the rapid, bullet-like popping of the bulbs and lights reverberating throughout the room. And then there is the silence which inevitably follows such scenes, of open mouths and incredulous expressions of regret.

I ended telling this Christmas story to an awkward silence, no doubt the collective thinking was “just who in the hell invited this person?” The men squirmed a bit and some of the women probably thought, “Poor Dear, probably crippled for life.”

Not really. I quickly replaced the broken lights and bulbs. And it became family lore, of the night Mom & Dad trashed Chritty’s tree! And life? It does go on.

Merry Christmas folks! To all of you! And may your tree still stand at the end of the day! Indeed.

Can Tiger Come Out And Play?

When alone I will sometimes yell at the TV. I will. Sometimes I don’t even have to be alone. I watched 60 Minutes last Sunday as President Obama explained his decision to up the ante in Afghanistan and by direct correlation, up the number of dead American soldiers. Yet even more meaningless death.

I am unsure what it is but I find such interviews with Presidents largely unsatisfactory. The questions always stop one or two questions short of requiring “a” President to 1.) either eat his words in contradictions or, 2.) acknowledge that policy decisions are made for the flimsiest of ill-considered reasons.

President Obama can claim all he wants that he went through an exhaustive process to determine his course of action in Afghanistan. And smugly pat himself on the back for that process. All it demonstrated was that a smart man got it dead wrong. That is the painful reality of Obama’s election.

And some of us yell ineffectually into that yaw of inevitable death.

Is it any wonder that we fixate on the trivial, the inconsequential, the tangential? Oh, and throw in our collective sanctimonious piety and we are in heaven. We live for such “tragedies” as Tiger Woods. We petty, little mortals relish when the mighty fall. Combine it with moral outrage and we literally tingle in vicarious titillation. Society reverberates like a tuning fork over Tiger’s many mistresses. How could he? Gasp, gasp. His wife is so lovely! Oh, my!! So faultless. So innocent. The children! Sigh. He was our hero!

A hero!?! Tiger Woods plays golf. The man plays golf for gawd’s sake. That is it. He golfs. He consistently hits a small round ball into a hole one or two strokes better than his opponents. He cashes in, makes millions in the process and allegedly becomes the first billion-dollar athlete. That’s heroic?

To me, the most impressive thing I ever saw Tiger accomplish was an outtake from an advertisement he was making. He took a golf ball and proceeded to casually bounce the ball off the end of a golf club as easily as you’d bounce a basketball on the floor. It was awe-inspiring. He does this, like, forever, and then nonchalantly smacks the golf ball, much as Alex Rodriguez would drill a baseball, a mile down the fairway. As a sideshow carney trick it was genuinely incredible.

Tiger Woods drops out of Stanford, joins the PGA, makes a buzillion bucks and we invest in him hero status. He marries little Miss Nordic Tenderloins (an au pair no less) has the two requisite children, starts a charity and becomes a role model for America. A role model?

Does any of this sound even remotely superficial? I like Tiger Woods as a competitor because he regularly pounds the white boys at their game. Golf and the “elite” clubs that surround the sport have historically been havens where rich, Protestant white folk gathered to smugly (yet, oh, so tastefully I‘m sure) assert their God given superiority. No Jews, no foreigners and for gawd sakes, none of them! You know. Them! Hit’um again. Harder. Harder. Hit’um again, Tiger. You just know in your heart of hearts that any number of our good ol’ white boys (and their imbecilic, Texas-haired wives) love Tiger’s fall especially because he is black. That is America. That is pathetic. That is human.

I’m not one to (actually I will) question other men’s tastes in women. That’s the beauty of desire. It takes all types. And, I’ve said for years there’s someone out there for everyone, probably five or six someone’s for everyone. In Tiger’s case maybe two or three dozen. Or so. Tiger seems to like enhanced women, surgically augmented women of big lips and bigger breasts. Big brains not so much. My friend Curtis said Tiger selected women who had nothing to lose. Bar hostesses and the like (whatever that means). At some level, it is apparent Tiger did not genuinely like these women, nor they, him. You don’t “cash-in” on someone you care-for’s problems. You just do not.

And America is aghast! Why? Kids, I hate to disabuse of a notion but men are sometimes cads. We are. And I think, historically speaking, that the richer, the more powerful the man, well, such behavior as Tiger’s becomes less surprising. If I were to project Tiger’s motivation I’d say that he is of two distinct qualities. He is a control “freak” and he is a sensation junkie. He craves the thrill of the adrenalin rush (that comes from winning, the accolades and from the sexual excitement of the new and novel). Life for Tiger has become one rich entitlement. And all that that implies. He wants it. He’ll have it. Who is anyone to tell him otherwise? Damn it.

We’re all playing amateur psychologist these days when it comes to Tiger’s life. We made him. We own him. In a manner of speaking. Someday we’ll toss him aside but not today.

What does a young man do who has it all (from a material perspective), who had it all (as a societal value)—the success, the fame, the wealth, the gorgeous wife and family—what does the man do with his life from here on out?

Only Tiger’s wife, Elin knows the answer to the big question on everyone’s mind.

“Can Tiger come out and play?”

Golf! Play golf! Ha! Ha!

See!?! Isn’t that so much more fun and amusing, let alone, morally gratifying (we hypocritical, sanctimonious voyeurs)—trashing Tiger—than thinking too hard on why Congress is in the pocket of America’s financial and banking interests or why President Obama is condemning our soldiers to death in worthless Afghanistan, that for all intents and purposes, Washington (the U.S.) burns and we fiddle.

As Scarlett said, “Oh, fiddledy-dee, I’ll think about THAT tomorrow.”

But in the salacious-mean time, did you hear that Tiger was photographed nude and his, uh, um, driver is . . .

Go ahead. Yell.

Louder! I can’t hear you!

I Don’t Think So.

What’s a rationalist to do? I place a premium on putting on the ol’ thinking cap and “thinking” my way out of a problem.

How do you solve problems? Chicken entrails? Check one’s holy scripture? The zodiac? Pray? Finger in the air to gauge how the wind’s a blowin’? Intuition? Roll the dice? Punt? My good buddy, Curtis, offers, “Kill’um all and let God sort it out.” I find that a wee bit drastic. Form a committee to destroy any semblance of creativity or ingenuity (construct the proverbial camel when a race horse is needed)? Decision making by consensus? Yap about it until you win by default? Wait until the “emergency” has abated and then slip in incremental, inconsequential amendments? Your gut? Seriously, how do you want America’s problems approached and solved (granted, solutions are often a subjective determination)?

This comes to the front of my mind as I determine what kind of President have we elected?
I was excited about electing Barack Obama President of the United States. A black man in the White House. This is/was a good thing in and of itself. It demonstrated (to me, the world) that the nation had hurdled one obstacle to a better, more integrated America. As a white man I do not apologize for wanting a competent, intelligent black man as President. It needed to occur and it has.

If I had not perceived Obama to be competent and intelligent I would not have voted for him. But he is and I did.

That said, I am concerned that Obama is not the required “change” I had hoped for. I still have not determined what exactly the man stands for and for what he is willing to fall on his sword.
Economic reform? No, he does not seem at all willing to buck the entrenched, self-serving Country Club crowd to achieve that? Gay rights? No, that is not a priority “moral” issue. Real, genuine healthcare reform that transforms the lives of Americans and brings the disparate medical profiteers to heel? Not a chance. The deficit(s) and the borrow-as-you-go mentality of the previous Republican Bush administration? No, stay the course on that one, too.

Are there no rational solutions for what confronts and befuddles America? Are our problems too intractable? Is the American Empire (imperialism), the American “Century” simply too far gone to turn our ship of state to more bucolic waters (metaphorically speaking)?

Let’s review the exercise President Obama conducted on America’s war in Afghanistan. He invests months of review. He conducts meeting after meeting with “learned” experts. He seeks the counsel of the Pentagon (hardly rational, hardly impartial). He asks for recommendations from his military leaders on the ground in Afghanistan. He consults with congressional leaders. Our military partners in Afghanistan are asked their opinions and ideas? He sends planeload after planeload of experts to that third-world hellhole to assess the reality on the ground. He analyzes the Soviet war experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s. He reads on the British military tragedies there in the 1840s and 1870s. He considers the utter corruption of the Karzai government. He witnesses the recent stolen election by Hamid Karzai. He reads the statistics on what an uneducated population (literacy rates, etc.) comprises Afghanistan and the implications that has for meaningful political or societal reform. He hopefully watches the movie, “Osama” to capture “a” flavor of the “people” he is dealing with. He reads CIA reports claiming that there are less than 100 al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He comprehends that al-Qaeda has dispersed into Pakistan, Somalia and around the world. He internalizes the 800 or so dead Americans thus far in that war. He consults political leaders in the Democrat Party and assesses the lack of support by the American people for a war that no longer makes sense, a war that is neither militarily justifiable nor morally defensible. He acknowledges the United States is broke and that any “nation building” needs to occur in America. He understands that many of our soldiers on the ground there have served multiple tours and that America’s military is spent. He reflects, reviews and consults for months.

And what does President Obama do, he makes a speech claiming the war in Afghanistan is critical to America’s security—yet the war will begin to end in 18 months? And in goes another 30,000 troops! I totally get the criticism from America’s Right on how do you justify establishing a deadline on a war you claim is critical to the safety and security of the nation? Either you win or you persevere until you do. Obama’s approach is illogical.

Except the whole damn war is illogical and unjustifiable. We need to exit immediately. We do not need one American troop in Islamland. Not one.

Ask yourself this: How many troops does China have stationed in Islamland? How many wars are they fighting there? Okay. Now how much do they pay for a barrel of oil? What? The same as the United States? How can that be? Our biggest economic rival pays the same for oil as America so why then does our nation pay such a horrific premium in lives and national treasure? How stupid is America?

How many died in 9-11? 3, 497 died. How much in property value was lost? Maybe $12 billion. We’re attacked and then we literally decide to continually and repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot and head. Thousands upon thousands of our servicemen are killed and horribly wounded and we’ve washed down the drain of war trillions of American dollars for what? It’s uggifying how infantile, short sighted and out & out destructive America is of its own self-interest. Did you talk to one reputable historian on Afghanistan, Mr. President? Perhaps you should.

I elected a man I thought would employ his brain and willpower to solving America’s problems. He’s turning out to be just another vanilla, white-bread (ironically enough) politician (a suit) who thinks he can thread the needle of expedient and complicit. Between consensus and leadership.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who thinks America is beset with insurmountable problems. She asked what I thought we should do?

Plant flowers I said. Drink champagne. Laugh. Enjoy life. Hug your grandchildren. Live. But always speak out. Speak up.

There are times when I think, “Sure. Let’s turn America back over to the Sarah Palin crowd. Their man-child (GWB) got us in this pickle! Let’s just leave America to the many creationist goofs who are passing for Republicans these days.”

If intelligence and rationality (Obama) isn’t the answer, maybe America needs yet another generous dose of good ol’Bible-thumping religious gibberish mixed with a Know-nothing nativism and a little Ayn Rand capitalistic sophistry, all nicely tied together around patriotism and imperialism.

Oh, boy! Let’s run that up the ol’ flag pole and all salute. Whatta-ya-say!?!

I don’t “think” so