Monday, March 31, 2014

Stephen and Tiffany and The Case Of The Overturned Car

It's springtime, which means it's time for rain, and flowers, and love, and overturned cars in the middle of nowhere.

This may be hard to believe, but this is ME in the picture, NOT Evgeni Malkin.

This past weekend my wife and I went geocaching which, as you know, can take you to some...unusual places. Of course, we're complete wusses, so we usually don't go anywhere too exotic, leaving those five-stars to the restaurant critics. (Some day we will rise to the challenge, and prevail, by which I mean we'll get lucky.)

Anyway, we decided to try and find one just off the main road. Despite the picture above, we weren't all that far from civilization; just a county road and a turn or two. But we were near 1) a coal mine, 2) a railroad track, and 3) a poorly-drained swamp. So, you know, the setting for the next American Horror Story: Pennsyltucky.

So I ask, dear reader, that you pass no judgement on me, because we pulled off to the side of the road, saw the railroad tracks, saw the empty cans of Keystone Light, saw this overturned car, and legitimately thought "Yup, this seems exactly like the sort of place where there would--nay, should--be an overturned car, so it's not really that big of a deal." And then we went looking for the geocache.

It was only after another vehicle had pulled up that we thought that perhaps this wasn't just a standard, routine, run-of-the-mill overturned car. A gentleman got out and asked us if that was our car; we answered that it was not.

"The dome light is still on," he said.

Now listen. I realize that at one point in my life I had harbored a pipe dream of becoming a private detective. I like to think that I have all the deductive capacity of Sherlock Holmes with all of his charms, and I'm just as pasty white as Data from Star Trek with the fashion sense of Nancy Drew and maybe just a dash of the Great Mouse Detective. So I will admit to a tiny piece of embarrassment when I realized that this is the exact sort of thing I should have noticed if I ever want to achieve my dream of starring as a quirky investigator on the USA Network.

Well, as you can see above, I was brave enough to check to make sure there weren't any injured bodies in the car (there weren't) or if there were anything to note (lots of paperwork strewn about). I also looked to see if there were any other signs of evidence (there was: my wife found tire tracks, proving that someone drove straight into the ditch above without even stopping, proof positive that she would probably get top billing on our comedic-based mystery-solving show. Now, now, FX, don't get in a bidding war with NBCUniversal!)

Anyway, we didn't see much else of note: no blood, no telltale signs of a meth deal gone bad, no overt evidence that Carlos the Jackal had cut the brake line. The kind gentleman who shamed my investigative prowess said he would notify the police, and then we decided it would be best to leave this to the authorities.

Still, it left a lot of unanswered questions. What this a simple drunken joyride gone wrong? Was this an elaborate plan to commit insurance fraud? Did the people in charge simply run off to avoid detection? And, most importantly, can we get John Hodgman to play our long-suffering boss?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nothing To See Here...

I just watched The Naked Gun on Netflix today, and I had forgotten how awesome of a movie that is.

Sometimes movies trick you. There have been plenty of movies that I thought were fantastically awesome when I was younger, and then I go back and watch them and I realize how dated and mediocre they were. Sure, some are a product of their times--humor changes, after all--but an alarming number of movies really don't stand the test of time.  Dramas aren't affected quite so much, of course, but a lot of action flicks and comedies are barely watchable anymore. Some survive on nostalgia, some on good acting, and some on clever writing, but a lot of successful movies benefited from the moviegoing landscape at the time.

Anyway, it's sometimes difficult to remember the path that The Naked Gun took. The ZAZ team (David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) had a hit with Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie, and were given a chance at a TV show (Police Squad!) When the series failed, they somehow managed to convince a movie studio that it would work better as a film--and it did. (Actually, no--the TV show was pretty awesome, too.)

The ZAZ team had a reasonably short era of success. Along with KFM, Airplane! and The Naked Gun, they also teamed up on Top Secret, a highly underrated sister film to the others (parodying spy and Elvis films--just see it). Ruthless People was also done by them but it's a clear departure from the outright parody.

Sadly, the movies they did separately are far less awesome. The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and Hot Shots! were both pretty good, and most of the Scary Movie franchise is decent (except 2, of course) but the rest...not so much. It also ushered in a long, horrible string of poorly-written "parody" movies in the same vein (many of which starred Leslie Nielsen). This slowly, then, degenerated into the string of Date Movie-style films that have neither the wit nor the charm of the original ZAZ movies, even if the jokes and parodies make sense in a logical, non-funny sense.

Anyway, watching The Naked Gun reminded me of how clever it was. It doesn't really look dated--Jane's hairstyle is about the only remnant from 1988 you can really see--and the jokes--even though you already know them--still work. The entire last third of the movie at the baseball game is just about perfection as far as writing is concerned. It has everything: the usual rockbed of farce, the exaggerated parody of baseball cliches, some slapstick thrown in, callbacks to earlier references in the movie, and some good old fashioned solid writing. The movie isn't perfect, and once you see a lot of the gags it loses some of its charm, but I was surprised as to how well it held up.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Quiz Show

Internet memes come and go in cycles, and just when you thought they were gone forever and they were just about to drip out of your memory to make room for new information, they come back again.

So it is now with online quizzes. You know, the things that get plastered all over Facebook and Buzzfeed about "What State Are You?" and "What Musical Instrument Do You Dream About" and that sort of nonsense? I mean, it's fun, in a back-of-a-restaurant-placemat-when-you-were-a-kid sort of way, but the questions are nonsensical and the outcomes never satisfying. I think I took the states quiz and I ended up with Minnesota. I mean, I'll take the cold and the dairy products, but there are too many insufferable suburbs and quiet serial killers to deal with.

Anyway, I remember a decade ago there was some web site that let you create your own quizzes similar to this (this was in primitive times, when Google was still just a search engine and Facebook wasn't a vast wasteland of your high school's horrible political opinions). I wish I could remember the subject matter of it (knowing me it was either about dinosaurs or Presidents), but all I remember is that you had the ability for there to be 32 different outcomes and all you needed was 256 outputs and I spent way too much of my life actually graphing these 256 outputs. I never ended up finishing the quiz, which is probably for the best.

Anyway, I was wondering what sort of quizzes I'd like to see made today.

  • What Obscure Olympic Sport Are You?
  • Which Flight 370 Conspiracy Is Your Uncle Going To Bring Up At Easter?
  • Which Celebrity Do You Take Your Medical Advice From?
  • What Cast Member Of Breaking Bad Are You, And Will You Still Share The Result On Facebook When It Turns Out You're Skyler?
  • What Episode Of Cosmos Are You Going To Claim You Saw When You Were Really Watching Wife Swap?
  • Which Pretentious Instagram Filter Are You?
  • What Candy Flavor Are You (Hint: The Answer Is Going To Be Anise And That's Going To Piss You Off)
  • What Expensive Item That You Will Immediately Regret Purchasing Matches The Personality Of Your Spouse?
  • What Piece Of IKEA Furniture Are You?
  • In What Honorable Way Would You Like To Be Put To Death In The Inevitable Russian Invasion By Vladimir Putin?
  • What Month Of The Year Are You Finally Going To Admit That You Haven't Seen 12 Years A Slave?
  • What Philip K. Dick Character Do You So Desperately Hope You Aren't?
  • Which Current Foreign Entanglement Are You Going To Pretend You Know Exists But Really Just Found Out About It Right Now?
  • What Classic Piece Of Literature That You've Never Read And Won't Understand The Answer Of Are You?
  • What Meaningless Internet Quiz Do You Not Want To Take But Everyone Else Has So You Feel A Social Obligation To Do So?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ten Items Or Less

So, how was your weekend? Let me tell you how mine started.

Last weekend I spent four hours in a room with about a hundred kids. As should be expected, therefore, I became sick last week.

It didn't happen right away, of course. A mild cough and a minor headache was all it was, and I was hoping my immune system and a barrel of Purell would help stave off any issues. But, sadly, the trajectory of sickness did not look promising, and I knew that both my wife and I were in for a long weekend. So I decided to stop at the closest Wal-Mart after work to stock up on supplies, hopefully so we wouldn't have to leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

So I ran into the department store to purchase, among other things, some two liters of soda pop. We've been trying to save money (while conveniently maintaining my addition to caffeine) so I've been trying to find deals on pop. While I am generally a Pepsi person, Coke somehow manages to do cherry right, so getting Cherry Coke Zero is an occasional treat. Sadly, it's not offered everywhere, so it's not often that I am able to find it.

Well, suffice it to say that not only did Wal Mart have Cherry Coke Zero, but it was on sale for the princely sum of a dollar a bottle. A dollar! Well, this was clearly the functional equivalent of winning the Powerball, so I loaded up my cart with four bottles of the stuff--four being the practical limit for me to carry in one trip, since only cowards and charlatans make more than one trip when carrying in groceries--stocking up for what would no doubt be a long weekend of thrills and excitement hopped up on knockoff Sudafed.

With this newfound purchase, I was King of the Cranberry Township Wal-Mart. I walked up and down the rows of merchandise with a steely reserve, cocky in the knowledge that I had not only found what I was looking for, but had done so at a fraction of the expected cost. My abbreviated shopping list was completed with haste; I looked fellow shoppers dead in the eye with the implicit statement of "Yeah, I'm buying a box of pink Kleenex. What's it to you?" Aisles parted ways as I finished my purchases; stockmen and cashiers became mute with awe as I approached. Never before and never again will they see one such as I.  I am Ozymandias, King of Kings; look upon my discount carbonated beverage purchase, and beware.

I didn't have much in my cart, so I swaggered on up to the speedy checkout line--but both she and I knew I could have had a hundred items in my cart and no one would have to say a thing. I placed my sundries on the counter: a little Alka Seltzer, a box of crackers, the usual mundanes. Some lady was cashing her paycheck in front of me so she didn't have any products, but the cashier had to sacrifice some goats to actually complete the transaction, so it was taking a while. And then, finally, at long last, I started loading my bountiful treasure: one by one, I placed the two liters on the counter.

With the final bottle in my hand, I placed it on the counter. It tipped over.

It didn't hit the floor; I was astute enough to catch it. But, unfortunately, apparently however I caught it caused a small tear to form in the plastic.

Anyone who has done this before knows exactly what happened next.

Two liters are, of course, pressurized, so when that small tear appeared a stream of Cherry Coke Zero started spraying out of it like a loose fire hose, a sort of poetic disaster one could find in the lost lyrics of Big Rock Candy Mountain. And when I say that it sprayed out, I mean a high-pressure spray of sticky, carbonated liquid started to erupt everywhere. EVERYWHERE. On me, on the lady in front of me, on the sign ten feet above us, on the checkout counter two rows over. I managed to divert the spray to the floor, but even the few precious seconds before I had a chance to do so it was able to coat the entire checkout area with alarming efficiency.

I would like to say that people sat there in stunned, sympathetic silence while I stood there helplessly embarrassed, and then some kingly workers helped me clean up. However, that's not what happened.

First off, some younger guy in a wheelchair started shouting "Makin' it rain! Makin' it rain! HAHAHAHAHA." ensuring that he knew--he just knew--that had he not been in a wheelchair before he did that, he would have been afterwards.

And then the woman in front of me gave me the stinkeye, like I was sent my her ex-husband to do this on purpose. I mean, I get it, some random stranger just forced a high-pressure shower of Coke on her, but I know what the check-cashing limit is on paychecks at Wal-Mart checkout lanes. Don't even act like this is the first time you've been coated with a sticky film of  gross pop.

So there I was, standing there, covered head to toe in Cherry Coke Zero, almost like a sort of redneck version of Carrie. Not only was this an embarrassment in and of itself, but I then had to go through the indignity of moving all my stuff to another register, wipe down my items as I placed them on the counter, and still check out (one item less, of course). I then had to slowly walk out of the store, head drooped down, minor chord jazz music playing in the background, as I made the walk of shame back to my car.

And that is how my weekend started. How about you?