Archive for February, 2008

Joe Blow Eats at the Green Cottage: What the Hell?

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by tigereye

I’ve been exposed to far, far more daytime television than is good for me during this stint of unemployment. While I’ve successfully avoided soap operas, there have been a few casualties: I’m now a sometime watcher of the “Today” show, God help me, and I’m hooked on “Meerkat Manor” since the “ER” reruns have gone into the show’s boring, original cast-less years.

Another casualty is exposure to commercials.

There’s this lawyer — in this case, the term “ambulance chaser” would not be an inaccuracy — who advertises liberally during “Today,” and it seems every morning, while I wait for Ann Curry to give me the news, I’m faced with this guy. He’s technically an insurance chaser more than an ambulance guy. He stands in front of a backdrop with his firm’s logo printed on it, exhorting anyone who’s ever stubbed a toe at work or caused a small accident while drunk to call him. That’s fair enough: it’s what they all do. I imagine the kind of law schools that would accept these guys (and by the way, why are all the men so, uh, generously sized? Maybe they should literally chase a few ambulances) have classes on how to shill in front of a camera.

But what interests me is the fine print.

One morning last week I read the fine print under the “Joe Blow Law Firm” logo, and was, frankly, intrigued. Among the usual required information, like where to find his office and what states have licensed him, is the following sentence, apropos of nothing: “Joe Blow enjoys eating at the Green Cottage.”

(It’s not really the Green Cottage. It’s a cheap-ass steak house. But if Joe Blow enjoys eating there, I’ll be nice so I don’t get sued.)

I’ll say it again, ’cause it’s freaky: “Joe Blow enjoys eating at the Green Cottage.”

Now, this was not your average everyday fine print.

I’ve been trying to figure this out ever since, because now it’s all I watch for on his ads, buried early on in the fine print beneath Joe Blow’s ample gut. Is he advertising for the Green Cottage? Does he own stock? Maybe he’s being evicted from his office and wants to give potential clients a heads-up: Hey, if the office tells you I’m at lunch, you can find me here! I don’t know what it means, and it’s driving me crazy. I can’t find anyone else who has a better idea, either. Did he win a lawsuit for the Green Cottage? Did he lose a bet with them?

Can anyone out there shed some light on this? I want the Joe Blow business explained before I have to go to work and concentrate on, you know, anything important.


May the Worst Man Win

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2008 by tigereye

For weeks I’ve been wanting to write something about this year’s Oscars, but I kept putting it off and putting it off ’til closer to the actual event. I’d noticed a trend in almost all the nominated movies toward honoring people for playing bad guys (and women), and thought it would be interesting to write about how and why that was almost a theme in 2007. So I waited, and waited, and now what?

Last week’s Entertainment Weekly went and scooped me.

Well, screw glib Hollywood-gossip magazines, I say. Anyway, EW mostly just talked about Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem, the most obvious evil nominees; I can go farther than that. If there’s anything I know how to appreciate, it’s a bad guy, especially the murderous ones. Hmm. Let’s not dwell too heavily on that.

But seriously, if 2007 wasn’t the Year of the Bad Guy, there’ll never be one. Day-Lewis’s oil man Daniel Plainview, a borderline psychotic version of Dick Cheney from 100 years ago, is as civilized evil as you’ll ever see outside the current White House, and Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is the flip side — no pun intended, if you’ve seen the movie’s famous coin-toss scene — pure functional psychopathy. But there were so many great bad-guy performances last year, why limit ourselves to just nominated films and performances? It’s not like there wasn’t enough evil to go around.

For instance, take one of the most entertaining movies I saw last year, “Mr. Brooks,” starring Kevin Costner in the role of an actor resurrecting his career for the fourth or fifth time — whoops, sorry, I meant in the role of a dutiful husband and father who also happens to be a fairly well-organized serial killer, the kind who would understand the mind of Anton Chigurh (and then plan to kill him to avoid an uncomfortable rivalry). I don’t consider myself a Costner fan, although I do own a couple of his better films on DVD, but I was enthralled by his performance: he’s Dexter on the big screen. In fact, the whole movie was populated with actors I’m not nuts about: Demi Moore as an obsessively dedicated cop, William Hurt as Costner’s evil side given physical form, and Dane Cook as, well, his asshole self, only funnier when someone else wrote his script. But the movie was terrific. Costner came off for once as being less buttoned-down, less middle-America, less actor turned golfer than usual. He looked like he was having fun. So did William Hurt. Now that I think about it, those are exceptional circumstances, right there.

There’s also “The Breach,” which I was hoping would earn Chris Cooper another well-deserved Oscar nomination. He gave one of the most riveting performances I remember as a CIA double agent who didn’t think twice about murder or treason but remained a devout Catholic and a dedicated family man. You withdrew from the sight of him onscreen after a while, but you never stopped respecting him: that character had his own tortured brand of ethics and never swayed from them. When you saw him playing in the snow with his grandkids, you got a sense that he really doted on them, and that it was in no way incompatible with his selling national secrets. The only bad thing I can say about this movie is that not nearly enough people saw it, and renting the DVD won’t be the same. You have to see Cooper’s lined face looming at you out of the big screen to really appreciate how good he is when he just acts with his features, not saying a word.

I’ll never understand why neither Denzel Washington nor “American Gangster” picked up many nominations, because it was one of the most fascinating character studies I saw all year, wrapped up in the guise of an action movie. Like Cooper’s CIA double agent, there’s a weird morality to Frank Lucas, the real-life gangster portrayed by Washington: while he deals cheap heroin and crushes his enemies (and pretty much anyone who crosses him), he clearly reveres his mother and loves his wife. There’s much more to him than the ruthless businessman who won’t allow his competitors the chance to show him disrespect… although I’d be lying if I didn’t say the killer in Lucas is what kept me fascinated, unable to take my eyes off him, the same way I’d watch a snake slide by in the grass. Interestingly, while Russell Crowe is playing the good guy in this movie, an incorruptible cop, the good guy is as personally flawed as Lucas is personally forthright. Crowe goes through the film with his integrity intact, but that’s about it: he loses a marriage and a child and almost everything significant in his life except his badge and his good name. It’s worth seeing this movie again to decide if I think it’s a good enough trade-off for his character.

Speaking of Crowe, don’t think he missed out on all the fun: he got to play a pretty bad guy himself in “3:10 to Yuma,” which, like most Elmore Leonard western stories, is really a crime drama set in the wild west. Crowe runs a murderous gang, and when he’s arrested, his fellow outlaws plan to see him set free at any cost. Like Washington’s Lucas, Crowe’s gang leader has his own curious and particular code of ethics… but it doesn’t slow him down when he sees an opportunity to kill to get what he wants.

Did I say every bad guy had to be Oscar-worthy? Well, if I implied that, let me disabuse you of that notion right now by bringing up one — two? — of the best nights out I had all year last year, the one I spent parked in front of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature “Grindhouse” with a couple of friends after a couple of drinks. Whoohoo! Not a truly good character in either movie, “Planet Terror” or “Death Proof,” but who the hell cares? Bad people melted and got shot in the first one, and Kurt Russell, who plays bad boys better than anyone else of his generation, goes from predator to prey in the second. Evil hasn’t been so much fun since Mr. Blonde’s torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs.” Pass the popcorn and let’s watch it again!

Nor do bad guys have to be guys. Again, someone I thought Oscar-worthy was ignored: Jodie Foster’s badly beaten radio host-turned-vigilante in “The Brave One” was a hell of a lot more than the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” ripoff it might sound like. As with Cooper’s CIA spook, there are layers and layers to her character; she’s as much PTSD survivor as she is killer, and you don’t forget it for a minute. Terrence Howard, as the cop who befriends Foster, is less all-good-or-all-bad than you’re initially led to believe, too.

So in a way it was a very grim year for movies, I guess. It’s not like we didn’t already know there’s almost no one who’s totally evil — OK, except Chigurh — but the dark sides of the year’s best characters were on display, and some terrific actors and actresses showed them off to their best advantage. I wonder what 2008’s national consciousness as seen at the cineplex is going to look like, this time next year? It’s too soon to tell, but the bad guys from ’07 are going to be hard to beat.

Like I said, pass the popcorn. And the ammunition.

*By the way: Orlando Bloom, if you’re reading this, why haven’t you called Wanda yet?!

I’m Your Bitch

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2008 by tigereye

Look no further.

You know how in any group of friends, there are roles for nearly everyone? There’s the Always Late friend, the Organizer, the Hostess…. and in my group, there’s the Bitch.

Everyone says I’m good at it.

When we all go out to dinner and end up seated next to a table with three hyperactive toddlers chasing each other around the room, I’m the one who asks the server if s/he can move us to some other table less conducive to murder. When somebody prances up to a queue of waiting people and intends to buck the line, I’m the one who points out their mistake (and that they’re outnumbered).

And there’s no place more in need of an act of bitchiness than your local movie theater, where tonight I had the honor of delivering not just my two friends but an entire theater full of moviegoers from the utter stupidity and/or laziness of the jackass in the projection booth.

Have you ever gone to a movie and found the previews made everyone in them seem nine feet tall and supermodel slim? Or maybe the opposite, turning everybody onscreen into Hobbits in a way neither Tolkien nor Peter Jackson could appreciate? There’s a reason for this: movies are in either “flat” or “scope” (short for cinemascope) format, and sometimes a set of previews in one format are grafted onto a film in the other. All this means is the projectionist moves a filter, or a piece of glass, or for all I know a magic fucking wand, before the actual movie starts, and everyone on the big screen looks like they’re supposed to again.

Or if you get a lazy- or dumbassed projectionist, maybe not.

I ended up going to the lobby three times tonight to get this corrected, missing a lot of the first 20 minutes of “No Country for Old Men,” which my two movieholic buddies have now rechristened “no movie for slackass employees,” but earning myself a round of applause from the 20 other people who wanted to see an odds-on Oscar favorite before the awards are handed out. Which is OK. I’ve seen it already, back in November, and I’ve read the book (ask me what I think of Cormac McCarthy sometime if you want to see me fall all over myself praising a freakin’ genius), but still, it would’ve been nice not to have to tell a theater manager how to do her job. I mean, she HAS a full-time job and I don’t, although an old boyfriend of mine used to run a movie theater and I doubt anyone could pay me enough to bail me out of jail after my first weekend at work.

But I digress.

I suppose it’s occasionally good to be the Bitch, since my friend who hadn’t seen NCFOM yet said I saved the movie for her by, well, harassing the staff into work. But I’m not crazy about being the Bitch all the time. With meanness comes responsibility, and missed movies, and the possibility that some teenage asshole will key my car in the parking lot next time I go to that theater. (In my red state, it’s easy to spot my car, adorned as it is with Democratic candidates’ names.)

I’m coming around to seeing this as an employment opportunity, though. Why be the Bitch for free in these days of self-promotion? I should hang out a shingle for the timid: Let Me Be Your Bitch. I’ll happily fight your battles for you: I’ll embarrass the no-child-support-paying ex in public, glare down the rude guy at the post office (I have no fear of postal employees — that’s a selling point, right there — because they’re generally better-adjusted than I am), and make the road-rager in the BMW look like the gesticulating pussy he really is. In return, I ask only for an hourly rate.

Oh, and bail money.

Keith Olbermann, I Love You

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2008 by tigereye

It took her over a year, but my friend Laura kept sending me transcripts of Keith Olbermann’s editorial pieces on his MSNBC show, “Countdown,” and she’s finally done it. There’s been a breakthrough, folks. Keith has just jumped over several people who are lined up in my head for me to carouse with. He’s passed Colin Farrell, Will Smith, and Dean Winters completely, ending up behind Joe Perry of Aerosmith (who has the coveted #1 spot in line) and just barely ahead of Bill Clinton.

I’m a complicated person. I like strange people.

Anyway, Olbermann…

I’ve been clicking onto MSNBC a lot lately, mostly at 8 o’clock when Food Network’s “Good Eats” is a rerun (will they ever have a new season?). Watching Olbermann is a lot like I imagine it would’ve been to have a crush on one of my professors. He’s older than me, although not prohibitively so, and clearly smart as hell, and I love the way his eyes almost twinkle behind those strangely attractive glasses, like he’s got the infectious good cheer of Santa Claus. I could use some infectious good cheer — it’s an election year and I’m already chewing my nails down to the skin.

And he goes off on diatribes that make me downright jealous.

I rant fairly well, thankyouverymuch, but Keith puts me to shame. That great voice is part of it — my vague southern accent often serves to soften whatever it is I’m saying, even if it’s “I’ll shoot your sorry ass if you don’t get the hell out of here.”* Also, Olbermann’s voice picks up speed as he goes on, like the words are just building and building inside his chest and he has to get rid of them NOW.

I’m kind of surprised that MSNBC lets him go off on the kind of rants he does. The man has no use for the Fool-in-Chief or his suckups, yes-men, cronies, “advisers,” or anyone else who mouths kind or excusing platitudes about our current president. He also has some kind of ongoing feud with Bill O’Reilly, and I gotta tell ya, if I were O’Reilly I’d drop it, because you’re not going to win. Bill O’Reilly is neither bright enough nor eloquent enough to mount anything like a defense against someone like Olbermann, yet he keeps trying to pick these fights, like the neighborhood bully yelling at the other kids while hiding behind his daddy’s legs. He can’t win. Why doesn’t he just go home and play with his loofah collection?

Last night, with the heading “SPECIAL COMMENT” onscreen beside him (MSNBC was taking no chances here), Olbermann took George W. Bush’s latest foolishness apart for a fascinating 5 or 6 minutes, calling him out on his incessant shrill yapping about “this good bill” and “we are still in danger” and the need for AT&T to keep my phone (I am a proud and registered Democrat, which is about all it takes) jacked into some poor bastard’s monitor. The fact that I almost feel sorry for any schmuck who has to listen to me making hair color appointments or dithering with John about recipes seen on “Good Eats” (even the reruns) doesn’t change the fact that the leader of this country is about as interested in keeping it free as I’m interested in going on paying nearly $3 a gallon for gas so some Exxon exec can buy another fucking Jaguar. Olbermann called him out with information I’m just too lazy to string together into a rant, because who would listen? (I don’t get nearly as much traffic here when I go political, although it doesn’t seem to stop me.) He came right out and called the wiretapping a fascist tactic — I bet there are more wires jacked into Olbermann’s phone lines than there are on a phone sex business — and called Bush out for fearmongering. Called it contemptible. Laid into the man, and his grandstanding fellow party members in Congress, for suggesting that terrorists were coming for us if this bill didn’t pass with the provisions he wanted in it.

You know what this reminds me of?, and I half-waited for Olbermann to say this too — it’s like Oral Roberts, twenty years ago, telling the entire damned country that he’d die if he didn’t get more money. Bush is just as shameless. Everyone who’s looked up from their PlayStation once or twice during the past 7 years knows if the man had done his job well enough to scan an FBI report, the World Trade Centers might still be standing, and that he’s used the nation’s greatest tragedy to slap down every civil liberty he can get his nose-picking little fingers on.

And Olbermann is clearly just as disgusted with this as I am, and he has a TV show on which he can stand up and say it.

This alone is proof that GWB hasn’t managed to stamp out every civil liberty yet, or at least hasn’t been able to reach every cable network yet to remold it into Fox Lite. It’s a little bit of relief at the end of a long day of being threatened by my president and repeating myself over my clicking phone. There aren’t a lot of people I’d trust to speak for me, but my new man, Keith Olbermann, is clearly one of them.

*This may or may not have been something I’ve actually said. You’ll just have to wonder.

My Mom’s Sweater

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2008 by tigereye

Not long before Christmas, I was visiting my mother’s house for the weekend, and she emerged from the bedroom one morning wearing a blue sweater I’d never seen before. It was denim blue, cable knit, with a couple of odd denim patch pockets on the front just over the waist and a denim collar. I suspect an acid wash might have come into this sweater’s life at some point before it ended up on whatever rack my mom found it on. It wasn’t the most unlikely-looking thing I’d have expected to see her wear, but it certainly made the list, somewhere between a clown suit and pink fishnet stockings.

Let me explain.

When I was in high school, in the unlamented ’80s, I had a sweater very much like this one, except it was black and the obligatory acid wash that was applied to everything after 1985 turned the cable stitch slightly white. I was extremely skinny back then, and the sweater was a comfortably oversized M, which meant I got to wear it all the way through college, even after it had gone out of style. It was something of a security blanket by then, and I’d also had the damn thing so long, the whitish acid wash had faded to a more fashionably acceptable gray. I think it’s still in the spare room, in a drawer not 20 feet from where I sit right now. I’m also sure it still fits. I’ve had 20 years to grow into a Medium.

My mother hated this sweater.

She hated this sweater the way I hate certain fashions that have long since outlived their usefulness, like neons, jelly shoes, and sweatpants with words printed across the ass. I don’t even remember why, unless it was because the sweater hung on my (then) pronounced shoulder blades the same way an old flannel shirt hangs on a scarecrow. The more she hated it, the more I loved it, and vice versa, which was probably the entire point. It went with everything: I could put a turtleneck or an Oxford or a thermal shirt under it and still have room to hide a kitten if I’d needed to. If I’d been the tiniest bit less enamored of this sweater, I’m sure she’d have spirited it away and said the washing machine ruined it, or the dog shat on it, or She Just Didn’t Know Where It Was, which happened to many things my mom didn’t like when I lived at home.

And now, 20 years later, she had on a blue sweater that could’ve been the first cousin of my old cable knit favorite.

So who could’ve resisted the impulse to do what I did?

“Wow!” I said, beaming. “I love that sweater!”

Mom looked momentarily surprised, then pleased. “Thank you,” she said, smoothing the front of it. “I just got it last week. It’s very comfortable, too.”

“It looks great on you,” I said. It didn’t look bad on her, but great might’ve been an overstatement. The color suited her, anyway.

“Well, maybe you can wear it sometime when you’re here,” she said, and I agreed, and that, I thought, was the end of that.

This weekend I stopped by her house again for the first time since Christmas, and while we were talking she said, “Oh, I almost forgot, your uncle X and aunt Y sent you a couple of presents.”

I hardly ever see my favorite uncle and his wife, and I hadn’t even considered that they might have sent me more than a card this year, so I followed Mom to the spare room, where a couple of boxes in Christmas paper sat on the bed, waiting for me.

I opened the small one first: a couple of red lipsticks, a gift with which no one who knows me has ever gone wrong. Then I opened the larger box, and there, beneath the festive green tissue paper, was…

…the same blue sweater my mom had.

“Whoa,” I said. If the sweater had reached out and slapped me, I couldn’t’ve been more surprised.

“I told them how much you liked mine,” Mom said. “Turns out they get the same catalog I got mine from.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never would’ve guessed.”

Somewhere, just beyond the sound of the wind, I can still hear God laughing at me.

Please — Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2008 by tigereye

Well, Mitt Romney is gone and I won’t miss him.

As far as I’m concerned, this guy was the Republican equivalent of Dennis Kucinich: the epitome of everything I dislike about his political party. He’s obscenely rich and spent part of every speech dwelling on it, something even Ross Perot had the decency to avoid. On top of this, he railed on about tax cuts for the rich as if he’d starve without them, and then made it clear that he didn’t give a damn if the poor did starve — it would be their own fault, wouldn’t it?

I’ve never really seen a Republican standard-bearer as proud of his party’s more despicable beliefs than Romney. Man oh man, he’s for the war: for your kids, poor folks, not his. His kids were, I believe the phrase goes, “serving their country by working in this campaign.” How noble of them. If he’d become president, I suppose this means I could count 1992 as a year of service to my country, since I spent it working for Bill Clinton’s first campaign. Then again, I’m poor, so I don’t think in Romney’s America I could count for anything.

His was the most bitter, whining concession speech I’ve ever heard, and it was followed by the bitter whining of the whacko wing of the Republican party, all those small minds and enormous egos gathered in one room at the conservative PAC meeting yesterday, most of them wailing in chorus about being stuck with John McCain. This was such a repugnant batch of people, they’re willing to turn their backs on one of the most decent men in their party. Well, do whatever you want, Republicans — I’ve never understood it, and if you’re the kind of people who genuinely want a craven egomaniac like Mitt Romney to run this country into the ground, I’ll never care, either.

At least now the extremes of both parties are out of the way, because as I’ve said, I have no more use for an egotistical wingnut like Kucinich either. I suppose it’s good for the country that we’ll let anyone run for president, because we invariably shove them aside, but then again, it’s like turning over rocks in a garden and getting a good look at the vile, squirming insects that live beneath them. I’ve had my good look. Now Romney can go away for — hey, this will be the first time anyone ever says these words about him! — four more years.