Category Archives: Entertainment

The Morally Questionable Side of Streaming Video

A few weeks ago my wife informed me that a new word has been added to our language, the same language spoken by Winston Churchill and Walter Cronkite. Our society has created the verb “netflix.” One may be said to netflix when one chooses a television program on Netflix and watches it one episode after another without pause.

For example, last night my wife and I netflixed the program 4400. It was enthralling. Seriously, we didn’t want to go to bed.

However, a few days earlier we found ourselves engaging in a related behavior for which no word exists, as far as I know. We decided to find something on Netflix to watch, and then we spent the next hour scanning through the available titles and talking smack about most of them. We never did watch a program. It was like being the two geezers in the balcony on the Muppet Show.

Is there a verb for this behavior? I can’t find one. I thought we might call it “net-trashing,” as in, “We net-trashed a lot of romantic comedies and monster movies last night.” That doesn’t seem quite right though.

Any suggestions?

"Net-napping?" "Net-snoozing?" "Net-coma?"
“Net-napping?” “Net-snoozing?” “Net-coma?”

 

Happy Birthday, and Go Beg Someplace Else, You Mewling Rat-Pill

This blog turned two years old yesterday. No party, no cake, no balloon animals. I had in fact forgotten the event until WordPress sent me a cheery note of congratulations.

Once I was reminded, the milestone did make me think. I thought hard about this blog, enabling me to ignore several more pressing topics that would have required greater effort and focus. The automated reminders at WordPress saved me when I needed them, and I’d extend my thanks if they cared.

After two years this blog has published a couple of hundred posts, has collected a couple of hundred followers, and draws a modest readership on the days I post something. That generates a few comments and a few “likes.” All of which is fine.

However, my last post has led me to wonder whether perhaps I don’t understand my audience. I cross-posted that item to the Humor section of a public blog forum. I figured that my audience consists of people wanting to laugh. I was unprepared for the volume of hits on my post. It exceeded my normal volume by a factor of 50. It shocked me.

My post’s ratings on the forum were a bit more positive than negative, but one fact really astounded me. Out of the thousands of people who came to my blog from that forum, not one signed up to follow the blog. Maybe the post was poor, and I’m not denying that possibility. But maybe I’m kidding myself when I think the “Humor” folks are my audience.

I’ve decided to ask you, the people who spend time reading these posts, to please help me out here. I am in the most emphatic manner possible not asking for an ego boost. But I would appreciate suggestions and ideas about who my audience really should be and where I might go to find them. Who would like this stuff, and where are they?

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this blog. I’ll try to remember the party next year. No clowns and balloon animals, though. Hookers and vodka—maybe.

I may have clowns at the party if this guy can make it.
I may have clowns at the party if this guy can make it.

Photo by Vnon via Wikimedia Commons.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

They Don’t Make Princesses Like They Used To

Because I am the best husband in the world, I recorded a Disney film on our DVR and left it there for my wife to find when she went to watch “True Blood.” I admit it wasn’t a premeditated act, but that doesn’t invalidate my best-husband status.

You see, Friday night while my wife slept I sat on the couch watching 13 Assassins. I simultaneously scanned the guide for upcoming programs because I can’t just look at the TV like a regular person, and I noticed that the film Brave would be playing at 5:20 AM. I thought, What would the best husband in the world do? Within moments I’d scheduled the recording and returned to my festival of samurai disembowelings.

My wife giggled when she discovered the recording. Well, that’s probably a lie. I wasn’t there, and she hasn’t giggled more than a dozen times in recent memory. She’s just not a giggly girl. But she did express great happiness and appreciation for my husbandly prowess.

Then I mentioned to her the vicious, eye-gouging, internet-shredding riot that erupted when Disney made the movie’s protagonist, Merida, an “official” Disney princess. The character’s elevation to “official” status wasn’t controversial, but the makeover art Disney gave her caused heads to fly off. I won’t go into detail, other than to say they redrew the character to match the artistic style of the older official princesses, and at the same time they wiped out lots of her tomboy individuality. And they took about ten inches off her waist, I guess because an official princess can’t be proportioned like an official real person.

After an internet shelling that made the Battle of Verdun look like On Golden Pond, Disney relented and dropped the new art. I understand their need to make the art consistent, but I think some of the changes kind of sucked. Check them out for yourself:

I don't think you get this kind of makeover on The Learning Channel.
I don’t think you get this kind of makeover on The Learning Channel.

I don’t want to get all spun up about the changes, but when I was looking for a makeover photo to show my wife I stumbled onto something else. I found a number of backlash comments slamming the movie, the heroine, director Brenda Chapman, and all the damned whiners who whined in their whining voices about the makeover. Here’s one example, with the commenting lady’s name omitted:

“Ms. Chapman could not finish this film herself. It was Disney who made it and it should be Disney that is championed. In the super hero line up of princesses- yes the wonderful heroines of films we love such as Snow White, Mulan, Belle etc. all had braver story lines than Merida who poisoned her mother and just felt kinda bad about it. The character was drawn in this clip art by a woman and Merida was drawn to match the world of the characters who were created as early as the 1930’s. To bring them all into the same world they needed to be drawn a bit differently than they appeared in the film. Perhaps Disney should remove Merida from the princess line up- just like they removed Brenda.”

– A Person Who Is Quite Unhappy About All This

I didn’t want to dismiss these objections just because they seemed kind of spiteful. Maybe this person has some real insight. So I considered her argument for a bit, which seemed to revolve around the story and the character being lousy compared to previous Disney films. Then I examined some of those classic films, extracting the plot and moral of the story for each, so I could compare them to Brave for myself.

Snow White

Plot:
The most beautiful girl in the kingdom runs away when the Wicked Queen tries to rub her out. The girl cooks and cleans for seven short guys until the Queen tries to kill her again. The short guys stick her comatose body inside a glass box and set it beside the road as if it were the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. She lays there until a handsome prince comes along and plants one on her, waking her up. They fall in love.

Moral: It pays to be beautiful, lucky, and handy in the kitchen.

Cinderella

Plot:
A beautiful girl’s widowed father marries a vile harpy and her two ugly daughters, and then he dies. The harpy and her daughters treat his beautiful girl like ass-crust. Meanwhile, the king prepares a party to find his handsome son a wife, and he invites every girl in the kingdom. The bill for punch will be murder. Some handily dexterous mice sew the girl a pretty dress so she can go to the party, then her awful step-sisters destroy it, and then a fairy magically sends the girl to the party anyway, where the prince falls hard for her. After some magical mishaps, the prince tracks her down using her shoe. They fall in love.

Moral: It pays to be beautiful, nice to rodents, and have supernatural beings helping you.

Sleeping Beauty

Plot:
A snubbed evil sorceress curses an infant princess to die when she first touches a spinning wheel. Rather than just destroying all the spinning wheels in the land, three good fairies change the curse so that the princess will just fall asleep upon spinning-wheel-contact. They take her to the forest, where she grows into a beautiful princess. She meets a handsome prince in the woods, and they fall in love. The evil sorceress brings the hammer down on her curse, knocking the princess into a coma. The prince then kills the evil sorceress and wakes the princess with a kiss. They continue to be in love.

Moral: Don’t piss off evil sorceresses. And of course it pays to be beautiful.

Brave

Plot:
A willful princess so badly hates the idea of being married off against her wishes that she breaks the rules, defies her father, destroys property, and casts a spell on her mother, which turns the nagging woman into a bear. The princess realizes she screwed up and looks for a way to de-bear her mother, having some heartwarming moments with mom along the way. She at last finds a way to break the spell, contritely offers to marry whomever she’s told to marry, and risks her life to help her clan prevail in one of the giant killer bear attacks that had recently become so common. Everyone agrees that children don’t have to be paired up like show poodles, and the princess spends the afternoon riding horses with her mom.

Moral: You don’t deserve to be your own person if you only think about yourself.

After considering all of that, I’ll tell you right now which one of these girls I’d want to live happily ever after with. But what do I know? I’m just the best husband in the world.

“You Can Look at the Funny Man, But Don’t Touch Him. He May Have a Liberal Arts Degree.”

I joined two teenagers in holy wedlock yesterday. I consider it an accomplishment since I’m not a minister, they hadn’t thought about marriage when they got up that morning, and I was wearing a pair of boots on my head. In fact, they had never seen me and didn’t know I existed until three minutes before I pronounced them man and wife in front of 30 strangers who didn’t even bring gifts.

All in all, it was a pretty normal spring-time Sunday for me.

I work at a renaissance festival in the spring. Most people go there to have fun, except the guys dragged there by their girlfriends when they’d rather be watching NASCAR, but they fear they won’t get laid tonight if they say no. I don’t go there to have fun. I go there to goad other people into having fun. I get paid just like most professional actors, which means I earn less per hour than a blind dishwasher in Burundi.

People have a lot of different opinions about renaissance festivals, and festivals are run a lot of different ways. There are a lot of jokes about renaissance festivals, some of which are hilarious. For example:

You know you’re at a bad renaissance festival when there’s an eight minute drum solo in the middle of “Greensleeves.”

Mainly I work there because it’s an acting challenge. I like to call it theater with no stage, no script, and no separation from the audience. To put it another way, I have no idea what I’m going to say or do until it happens, we have 33 acres so I have to pin my audience against something so they can’t get away, and I have to make them look brilliant even if they’re gaping at me with a sliver of turkey leg hanging off their cheek. I can tell when I’ve done a decent job of transforming into my character, because my character likes almost every person he’s ever met. You can ask my wife and my friends just how much that does not describe me. So—good acting challenge.

In most cases you have to select your audience, stalk them, and approach them. The best part is when they see you coming and their eyes get that desperate, calculating look. It’s as if they were trapped between a river and an army of tigers, and they’re assessing whether they can make the jump to freedom. At the same time they hover between smiling and not smiling, because they’re not sure which one is most likely to draw the tigers’ attention. That’s the best part because they have such trepidation when you arrive, and you know that when you’re done in a few minutes they’ll be happy, or amused, or feel welcome. Or maybe they’ll feel relieved that you’re done, which is at least better than getting drunk and kicking a mime.

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about renaissance festivals. I just said all that in order to say this.

One day fifteen years ago at this festival I don’t want to talk about, I got tired of selecting and stalking my audience, so I set a trap. I gathered a double-handful of little rocks and sat on a bare, flat spot on the ground. Then I began placing and stacking rocks in patterns that didn’t mean a damn thing. Within ten minutes I had a bunch of little kids, about six or seven years old, picking up their own rocks and stacking them along with me.

I didn’t give them any instructions or rules. My only rule was that whatever they did was perfect. If they knocked down 30 existing rocks, I told them that was the most beautiful thing ever and those rocks must have been in the way. The funny thing was that most kids had a parent standing nearby telling them to be careful and not mess anything up. We tried to ignore those parents as much as we could.

This weekend I realized I hadn’t set a kid trap in a decade and a half, so I gathered up some rocks and went to work. In the first five minutes several kids stopped to look, but none of them sat down to play. In the following five minutes a couple of kids brought me rocks, but they wouldn’t sit down to help, even though I invited them. The parents, who were grown up versions of my kids from 15 years ago, just looked and didn’t say anything. After 30 minutes I gave up and moved on.

What the hell?

I pondered this change last night as I ate an economically priced New York strip, and I came up with a small array of possible explanations:

Stacking rocks loses its charm when a child can play Angry Birds on his cell phone 24 hours a day, even on the toilet.

For a child today, sitting down to play with an unknown person seems as dangerous as injecting arsenic into your neck.

Today’s children are expected to follow rules that govern every type of human behavior, so when they looked at the unstructured rock-stacking activity, their minds couldn’t deal with it. Their brains had to reset like a computer that’s been told by Captain Kirk to divide by zero.

I didn’t like any of those explanations. They’re all depressing. And since I possess modern man’s ability to convince myself that the things I don’t like are untrue, I denied all these explanations. As I choked down the last gristly bite of cow, the correct explanation revealed itself.

It’s me. I am 15 years older. I’m 15 years stranger. I no longer look like the fun but kind of weird uncle. Now I look like the really weird old guy doing something with rocks that’s inexplicable but probably bad. No wonder they stood out of reach, watching like I was a musk-ox in the zoo. They didn’t know what to make of me, but they were sure nothing good was going to come out of me.

So I’ll put my kid trapping techniques aside from now on and go after older audiences. The kids are safe. Wait until they’re teenagers on a date at a renaissance festival, though. Then I’ll own their asses.

"When's that man going to do something interesting, mommy? I want a wooden sword so I can give my brother a concussion."
“When’s that man going to do something interesting, mommy? I want a wooden sword so I can give my brother a concussion.”

Photo by Steven H. Keys via Wikimedia Commons.

Something to Amuse and Perplex the Entire Family

Last night I looked up from writing my novel synopsis and eating peanut butter cookies, and I realized that this blog has achieved a phenomenal milestone. It has existed for 660 days. The significance may not punch you in the face right away, so I’ll explain. The numeral 660 is the area code for Sedalia, Missouri. That town is only a two hour drive from Branson, Missouri. I visited Branson once. I think it’s pretty much how Las Vegas would look if it were built by the cast of Hee Haw, and yet the place entertained me in spite of myself. Ergo, milestone. Don’t you feel silly that you didn’t see it for yourself?

In celebration, I devoted a few minutes to thinking about the posts in this blog, and the number of posts (176) made it hard to keep them straight in my brain. If my tentacular mass of prior posts confuses me, then it probably confuses more recent regular readers, not to mention folks who stumble across the blog.

And I don’t know about you, but when I find an interesting blog with a long history, I’m puzzled about how to locate the parts of that history I might be most interested in. I know that’s what categories and tags are for, but what does it really mean when a post is tagged “camel”? How to ride one? How to raise them? How do they taste roasted? Do you prefer regular or menthol? It would be nice if the blogger would do some extra work for me. I have my own work that needs to be done and cookies waiting to be eaten.

A quick survey revealed that while this is my general humor blog, it does often follow certain themes. Creativity, marriage, work, family, fear and confidence are common themes. In addition, 33 posts mention movies, 35 posts mention death, 17 posts include strong profanity, 7 posts mention snot, and immersion blenders figure prominently in 2 posts. Cats appear in a full 100 of my posts.

Okay, this is a perplexing mess, and I’m cutting through it right now. I’ve extracted eight general groups of posts and a few posts from each group. You can find them below, along with a sentence or two describing each group to help you decide whether those posts might be interesting to you in any way at all.

My Wife

In order to understand a lot of my posts, it helps to understand my wife. This group of posts describes about 10 percent of her being, but that’s the portion she employs daily, not the 90% capable of sinking you like the Titanic. We’ve discussed getting t-shirts that say “Bill will make you cry. Kathleen will make you disappear.”

Travel

These posts chat about a couple of our recent vacations, both of which almost killed us. Jamaica was romantic. Disney World was nostalgic. Both were horrifying in their own way.

Family

My mother died last year, so these posts may not make you pee with laughter the whole way through. Some are a bit somber, but I tried to avoid maudlin.

Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies

My acquaintance Baron Yörg, a 500 year-old vampire Lord of All Things Foul and Unholy, provides the occasional movie review. I’ve been begging him to review Bambi, but no luck so far.

Jobs

Employment and unemployment seem to weigh on everyone these days. In these posts I touched on employment challenges, with a subtext of living in a ditch and eating dirt, rejected by everyone with more than four teeth, and forced to count my lice to keep from going insane.

Death

These posts contain a below-average number of chuckles, but they do touch on some real ways that death forces itself upon us.

Weirdly Philosophical

All right, maybe this shouldn’t even be a category, but these posts look at some odd aspects of living in the world, such as fear, failure, and walking around with a metaphorical stick up one’s backside.

Top 3

These were the three most frequently viewed posts that didn’t fall into any of the other categories. Yeah, I didn’t do any work at all to list these, but they seem cute to me.

I hope this presentation was helpful to folks interested in checking out some of the older posts. Putting it together helped me. I had no idea I’d never written a post containing the word “spleen.” Until now.

If we're going back in time, let's go all the way back.
If we’re going back in time, let’s go all the way back.

I’m Ignoring You Because of My Brain

It’s not really that I don’t love you. I have reasons for ignoring you and this blog over the past couple of weeks. They are bad reasons, but then people often have bad reasons for not doing things. Bad reasons for not exercising, bad reasons for not saving money, bad reasons for not walking away from the computer before posting that rabid Facebook flame. I’m claiming solidarity with the world’s self-deluded procrastinators.

In the interest of whining about how busy and hard my life is, I’ll point out that I have a job—for now—and a family life that require me to devote blocks of time if I want to continue having jobs and a family. For example, I’ve been helping my father refinance his house. I love the optimism inherent in securing a loan that won’t be paid off until you’re 105 years old, but it does require time to arrange. Also, I’m happy to spend bonding time with my wife by sitting on the couch watching hour-long crime-solving comedies that always seem to show graphic autopsies and melting flesh just when I’m eating my dinner.

However, I’ve spent time on a few other things in recent weeks, and I can use them as whimpering excuses for my absence from this blog space. Let’s look at my creative endeavors.

For the past few weeks I’ve been in rehearsals for an eight-week show that opens this weekend. I love performing, but it eats time the way my cats eat yogurt, which is to say, voraciously. This is an ideal commitment for me to cite as a bad excuse for ignoring my other commitments. People assume that actors are kind of artistic, irresponsible, flaky types anyway, so that works in my favor.

I also have the opportunity to pitch a book project to agents a month from now, so I’ve been editing and polishing the thing like it was a ’58 T-Bird. I’m obsessing over everything from typos to profound thematic problems, such as, “If the bad guy ambushes the hero and traps him in a church, why doesn’t the hero just slip out the back door and run away instead of standing there to get pummeled? Is he stupid?” I’ve been surprised at how many stupid things my characters do just because I want to get them into a certain situation.

I’ve been using a book called Nail Your Novel to guide me through editing. It’s been terribly helpful, but all this still takes time. In fact, I have a plan for writing so that it doesn’t suck away too much family time. I write as much as I want four weeknights each week, and the fifth weeknight is for my wife and me (and whatever melted-flesh TV programs we’re watching). I don’t write at all on the weekends. If I can average 1,500 words per night, in 14 weeks I have an 80,000 word first draft. I squeeze in other writing (like this blog) at other times, such as early morning or lunch.

It’s structured, and it works. It avoids those situations in which my wife doesn’t see me for three months because I’d rather write than do anything else, including eating, sleeping, and showering. It also serves as another bullshit excuse for not updating this blog in the past couple of weeks.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself off work early. That would have been an ideal time to blog, before evening when I would start editing my book. But instead of blogging with this free time, I chose to replace a florescent light fixture under our kitchen cabinet. A few weeks before, my wife had bought a new fixture to replace the current 40 year-old cracked and sagging fixture, and she laid it on the bench in the kitchen. She told me it was there, I said I’d put it up, and then she didn’t mention it for a week or so. At that point she said she should probably replace the fixture herself sometime. I might have mumbled that I’d get to it soon. Thereafter she ignored the fixture and didn’t mention the fact that it lay on our kitchen bench, and that I stacked stuff on and around it almost every day.

So, yesterday afternoon I resolved to replace the fixture, knowing that I could blog afterwards. I’ve done this sort of repair pretty often in my life, so the old fixture came down, and the new one pretty much flung itself up onto the underside of the cabinet. At that point I was reminded of a fundamental principle of home repair. When attaching something to the bottom of something else, you will have screws that point up.

My hands like to tell me to go to hell sometimes, for technical reasons beyond the scope of the current discussion. When I focus on doing something they will shake. When I really concentrate, they shake even more. When I get frustrated, that’s like permission for them to do The Harlem Shake (you young folks check the link). When I leaned over the counter, under the cabinet, backward and upside down to thread these screws, that’s when the fun began.

About an hour later I passed my wife, who was sitting in the den, and she asked what I’d been laughing about. I told her I’d just taken an hour to do something I used to be able to do in about 30 seconds, and she expressed her sympathy. I didn’t touch on the hour’s worth of events that took place before I laughed. Here’s an excerpt:

I try to thread a screw and drop it.

I try to thread it with the other hand and drop it.

I put it on the end of a screwdriver and drop it, where it falls behind the toaster.

I think bad words and consider smashing the olive oil bottle on the inconceivably hard tile floor.

I drop the screw five more times in a row.

I actually pick up the olive oil bottle but take a deep breath and put it back down.

I drop the screw four more times.

I start to ask my wife for help, but I think ‘What if I was here by myself?’

I drop the screw three more times, until it falls on the floor where it rolls under the refrigerator.

I walk around the kitchen a couple of times thinking that I could take the olive oil bottle out back and down the alley to smash it, where no one would ever need to know.

I move the refrigerator and get the screw.

I fold masking tape on my fingertip and stick the screw to it, then I try to thread it and drop it inside the toaster.

I shake the toaster upside down for the screw, and I clean toast crumbs off the counter, wondering why we haven’t died in a fire.

I drop the screw ten more times in a row.

I wring the dish cloth full of toast crumb really hard. I think some of the molecular bonds may have broken.

I drop the screw another ten times in a row.

[Imagine that this goes on for about another 45 minutes]

All the gods from every religion in history guide my hand, and I thread the screw.

I laugh because nothing is broken and everyone is still alive.

Now that I have, in the manner of a neurologically-challenged Prometheus, restored light to our kitchen, I’m pretty much out of bad reasons for not updating this blog. I can’t think of any good ones either, so here we are. All I need are a title and a photo before I post this. What photo should I use? The light fixture conquered and gloriously mounted on my cabinet? Or the cat eating yogurt?

Cats eating yogurt. It never really wa a contest, was it?
Cats eating yogurt. It never really was a contest, was it?

 

Jesus Doesn’t Love You If You Check and Raise

I remember when I was eleven years old doing my very best to cut out my grandfather’s heart and eat it. He was trying to do the same to me, so it was all fair. Plus, it was on Christmas Day, so we deserved some kind of forgiveness, or dispensation, or something like that.

Here’s how it went. On Christmas morning my sister and I assaulted our toy-encircled tree like a troop of baboons, after which my family opened gifts. Then, before we could play with our new toys that made every other toy we’d ever owned look like cow flop, my parents made us get dressed and drove us to my aunt’s house. The entire extended clan ate the noon meal together, with us kids at the short tables. In this way my people broke the holiday bread, reaffirmed our family bonds, and in the afternoon, as the Good Lord intended, we played poker.

I don’t know why we played poker within spitting distance of the Nativity Scene, but that’s what my people did. I didn’t learn much about religion, but I learned that if you’re not playing poker to cut out someone’s heart and eat it, you might as well be playing with a wad of dirty newspaper and a stick. I also learned that faith is a wonderful thing, but don’t draw to an inside straight.

We played for cash. Nobody cared that I was eleven years old. If I was dumb enough to raise into a pair of aces, I must be too stupid to spend my allowance on anything good anyway.

My father didn’t play poker with us. I didn’t think about it then, since he pretty much minded his own business and nobody bugged him about it. But yesterday he explained to me why he didn’t play. When he was in Korea during the war, neither he nor any other marines got paid. The Corps held onto their money, since they sent men to places where there wasn’t a damn thing worth buying anyway. The Corps finally shipped them home on an actual ship, which stopped in Japan so the men could get their back pay in real, U.S. cash.

Poker games broke out in every unused cranny of that ship. Not every man played, but a lot of them did. After all, there weren’t many recreational activities on a ship crammed with marines. However, the main point is that by the time they reached San Diego about six guys owned all the money, and hundreds of fellows were broke.

My father did not play poker. When he got home, he bought a new car.

This is all fantastic evidence that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance. Here’s a fun fact for you. If you look around the poker table and can’t tell who is the least skilled player at the table—you’re the one whose heart is about to be cut out and eaten. Now that I think about it, that’s true of a lot of things in life.

My grandfather died when I was 15. The family drifted, and after a few years the Christmas dinners stopped. We didn’t play poker anymore. But by that time I felt like I was a pretty good player. In my twenties I decided to see how good I was, and I started flying to Las Vegas to play poker. I won a little sometimes, and I never lost much, so I kept playing.

The crazy point came when I landed in Vegas, went straight from the airport to the casino, and played for 40 hours straight. At the end of that time I was $10 ahead. I thought, What the hell? I’d won a lot of hands, and I hadn’t lost too much money on any hands. Then for the first time I paid attention to something I’d seen thousands of times. Every time someone bet, the dealer pulled out ten percent and dropped it in a hole in the table, where it went to pay for electric lights, and Wayne Newton, and hookers for Japanese high-rollers.

It wasn’t enough to be good. You had to be supernatural. I never surrendered poker money to a casino again. I played other games like craps and blackjack, and I lost my ass because I hardly understood them at all.

To wrap this up, jump forward in time to my wedding. I’m not the wildest guy on my block, and my bachelor party was an event of less than thermonuclear festivity. Instead of strippers and tequila, my best and oldest friends came over to my place for the evening, and we bonded by drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing poker.

I took all their money. I cut out their hearts and ate them. Hey, we were playing poker. Screw ‘em. If my grandfather was fair game, what did they expect?

My dad in Not-A-Damn-Thing-Around-Here, Korea, 1952
My dad in Not-A-Damn-Thing-Around-Here, Korea, 1952

Spielberg Said It, So It Must Be True

The problem with real life is that there are no close-ups. We don’t have camera angles that show us which job we should take, nor key lights that shine on the eyes of the woman we’re supposed to marry. We may lie in bed at night thinking we’ve done pretty well anyway, and that these are the good times in our life, so we’d better appreciate them. But we don’t get a crescendo from a John Williams musical score to tell us when we tip across the best point in life. We’ll look around later to realize that the best time has passed, and we’ll wonder when the hell that happened.

If only Billy Wilder were directing my life, then I’d get some cues about what’s going on. I’d settle for Kevin Smith, or maybe Ron Howard. None of them signed on for the project though, so I have to bumble my way through it.

However, the movies haven’t abandoned me altogether. I’ve watched more movies than most people have eaten sandwiches, and I’ve absorbed quite a lot of life lessons from films. This afternoon I reclined in front of the fire to gather my thoughts, and as I ate a bag of Snyder’s pretzels I documented the nucleus of wisdom that the movies have taught me. I now bring it to you, packaged into seven convenient bundles.

Physics

You can get hit by a car and sprint away unhurt as long as you bounce off the windshield.

Any piece of furniture can stop any bullet, even a couch made of foam rubber and sticks.

You can run around in a burning house for several minutes and be okay as long as you breathe through your shirt sleeve.

If you jump through a glass window, you’ll get three or four tidy cuts rather than a deluge of blood from severed veins and arteries.

Social Conventions

You’ll probably be left at the altar sometime in your life. Your best man or maid of honor will be the one who screws you over.

If you act like a rude, selfish, condescending pig, then the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen will fall in love with you.

It’s okay for a guy to cry, but only if he’s four feet tall and hiking to a volcano.

Biology

You can get away from any predator by climbing a tree.

Even thugs and homeless people have perfect teeth and are better-looking than anyone you know personally.

A dying person will always be able to say some final words before he expires.

Demographics

There are tons of disgraced ex-cops on the streets, but if you have a ten-minute firefight with explosions in downtown, no cops will show up. Also there are more hit men in the world than there are convenience stores.

Half the people in the world have super powers or vast wealth. Another fourth are wizards, hobbits, elves, vampires, or zombie-fighters. The rest of them are pirates, secret agents, or Russell Crowe.

Morality

Bad people are such awful shots they can fire a thousand rounds without hitting anything. A good person can lean out a sports car window with a pistol and hit a moving target a hundred yards away.

All governmental agencies and corporations are evil, and any of them can be thwarted by a single ex-CIA agent or sniper with a three-day beard.

General Probability

You’re more likely to switch bodies with someone or go back to a younger version of yourself than you are to be seriously injured when your car flips half a dozen times.

Helicopters will be shot down by small arms fire 100% of the time.

If you’re someone’s best friend, there’s a fifty-fifty chance you’ll be dead soon. If you’re someone’s mentor, you’re definitely about to die.

Practical Advice

Stay away from telephones, unidentified video tapes, saws, and rings. Just stay away.

When someone asks if you’re a god, say yes. When someone asks if you’re alone in the house, say no.

What invaluable lessons have the movies taught you?

In Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley taught me that prison isn't so bad if you can sing in a rock and roll band, everyone treats you like a movie star, and pretty girls fall in love with you.
In Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley taught me that prison isn’t so bad if you can sing in a rock and roll band, everyone treats you like a movie star, and pretty girls fall in love with you.

The Disney Deluxe Triple Bypass Plan

I’m fairly sure that Disney is trying to kill me. I don’t mean they plan to wipe me out with an obvious weapon, and they don’t want me to flop over dead in the middle of the Country Bear Jamboree. That would cause talk, and the paperwork would be a bitch. Instead, I think they intend for my heart to explode like a super nova while I’m mowing the yard in about five years.

You see, we’re on the Disney Meal Plan. It’s not just the Disney Meal Plan, mind you. It’s the Disney Deluxe Meal Plan. My wife’s father, who is hosting this trip, graciously and generously furnished this plan, and I’m grateful to him for his kindness. I knew it was something special when we checked into the hotel. The desk clerk looked at our paperwork, raised her eyebrows, and said, “Oh, you’re on the DELUXE Meal Plan,” just as she might say, “Oh, you reserved a UNICORN to carry you around Fantasyland.”

But I still didn’t appreciate what that meant until our first afternoon in the Magic Kingdom when we decided to eat. We inquired at a small restaurant and were told the wait was rather long. In fact, my wife and her traces of blood sugar would have been convulsing on the pavement at Goofy’s feet if we’d waited that long. So we trotted across the street to buy hot dogs.

I ordered two hot dogs and a small Diet Coke, and I gave the nice lady my meal plan card. The nice lady looked annoyed with me. After a couple of minutes of gesturing and shouting over the 50 other orders in progress, she made me understand that if you have a meal plan there is no such thing as a hot dog and a drink. If we wanted to use the meal plan for two hot dogs, we would get two deluxe hot dogs. Mine had chili and cheese. My wife’s came with pulled pork and slaw. Also, small drinks don’t exist for meal plan owners. We’d get large drinks, and two of them. Didn’t we want the French fries? She hoped so, because we were going to get them anyway. Oh, and we’d better not walk out of there without our mandatory two desserts. Stunned, my wife and I shuffled out of the place carrying what looked like a picnic table full of food, with a cellophane-wrapped fudge brownie clutched in my right hand.

We regrouped and changed tactics, like guerillas who’ve just been beaten by superior firepower. From then on we ordered one meal and split it whenever possible. We still ate like bears in spawning season. The breakfast egg sandwich was as big as half a dozen Egg McMuffins. I am not kidding. That worked out okay when we could order standing up. But if the restaurant was more sophisticated than a taco stand in Juarez, it didn’t let us get away with any of this ordering-one-meal-to-split-between-us bullshit. Two people get two meals, plus appetizers, beverages, and desserts. If we suggested otherwise, we got wry looks, as if they thought we might be socialists.

I left some good food on several tables. Things culminated last night at a wonderful restaurant. I nibbled on my appetizer, knowing I had to pace myself for the entree and the dessert. I’d ordered pastitsio, sort of a Greek lasagna, even though the waitress warned me that it was “heavy.” It arrived in a bowl as big as my face and three inches deep. I now know that in Greek “heavy” means nine macaroni noodles, a shred of ground beef, and four pounds of béchamel sauce.

I began digging through the pastitsio, looking for something other than that mass of butter and milk with the same specific gravity as uranium. I started to think of this meal as arsenic injected directly into my heart muscle.

As an aside, throughout my struggle with this entree, the wait staff was several times forced into frivolous birthday singing and shouting for embarrassed diners. My god, why don’t restaurants allow their servers to retain some dignity? They should just comp the birthday boys and girls a martini and a lottery ticket. Maybe a hooker if you ordered the lobster.

My wife, her step-mother, and I all surrendered to our monolithic tubs of pastitsio after several minutes of unsuccessful excavation. The wreckage looked like this:

I almost rebelled and refused dessert, just to challenge the restaurant into reprisals. My courage failed, and I ordered chocolate cake. How could they screw up chocolate cake? The waitress soon brought me an unfrosted disc of cake, the size, shape, and color of a hockey puck, with a little raspberry sorbet on the side. After one bite I realized this wasn’t the Nestle’s chocolate you might use for Christmas cookies. This chocolate was made from cacao beans picked under a full moon by virgins with hands bathed in lotus nectar. If my wife had reached for a bite I might have slapped her hand. If she’d known what I had on my plate, she’d have jammed her dessert fork into my jugular and let my body puddle to the floor while she annexed my cake.

That cake made up for everything. Here’s how it looked:

We’ve fought hard to keep the Disney Deluxe Meal Plan from killing us at some future time, but I fear we’ve failed. I may die from a butter-fueled coronary in a few years, courtesy of a mouse in a giant, sweaty costume, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the magic.

By the way, this is what they say the magic looks like:

This is what the magic really looks like:

Sparkle, or I’ll Cut You

At Disney World, if you don’t glitter then you’re a drone. You can push strollers, pay for ice cream, block the paths with your chubby waddle, and fill up queues to make it hard for the real merry makers to get to the Haunted Mansion. But you don’t add to the corona of happiness enfolding the place, and you’re just no fun. Today I saw a man who would kill you just for blinking, but in Fantasyland he strutted around wearing a red sequined Dumbo hat, complete with tail and ears that light up. That guy was fun.

I’ve seen more little girls dressed as princesses than I’ve seen Jack Sparrow t-shirts and coffee mugs. They were cuter than these kittens:

The little Scottish princess from Brave was popular, as you can see:

My favorite tiny princess wore a shiny lavender fairy tale dress and sparkly shoes, and her hair was done up with glitter and other girly doo dads. She was in the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop with a hook on her hand, wrecking everything on the shelves and threatening anyone less scurvy than herself. That princess was pretty, but she didn’t take any shit. My kind of girl.

What did I wear on my journey through the Magic Kingdom? A plain gray t-shirt, gray trousers, and sneakers that I think were black five years ago. I looked like a piece of lint. I was useful for buying hot dogs and saying, “Excuse me,” to people blocking our path to the Hall of Presidents. Apart from that, I was the black hole where merriment goes to die.

I did make a tiny effort to increase the overall tonnage of fun in the park. As we hustled through Frontierland, we heard joyful, terrified shrieks distorted by distance and the Doppler effect. My wife, who’s more afraid of roller coasters than a bottle of gin is afraid of Keith Richards, said, “You can go ride that if you want to. I’ll hold your glasses.”

“Come on. Am I not man enough to make you feel safe?” I said.

“I don’t think so, unless you can reach in and make my gut feel safe.”

“I can do it,” I said. “Maybe I can be the gut whisperer.”

That was not a popular response. Twenty minutes later I was watching robot Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address. There was very little screaming involved.

Oh, and by the way, I don’t think Disney knows that Christmas even exists. You can tell from this picture.