Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Importance of The “First Date” Movie

 Dinner and a Movie – the time tested and perhaps hallowed activities in which a pair of individuals most often engage in on a first date.  Who am I to mess with tradition? 

It was the summer of 2008.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  My recollection of time is most clearly defined by the movies that are released on a yearly basis, so here is what I recall of that year: worldwide audiences were thrilling to the exploits of a sober Robert Downey, Jr. in a robotic suit of armor.  A creaky, weathered Harrison Ford decided to crack his whip and don his famous fedora once more.  Heath Ledger wore make-up and licked his lips a lot while Christian Bale growled at him.  And a lonely, hopelessly romantic robot cleaned up the earth while kicking out the jams of “Hello Dolly.”

I also asked a special young lady out on a date that summer.  In a bizarre twist of fate that rattled the foundation of the cosmos and made my tummy feel funny, she said yes. 

I’m sure a million things rush through the mind of the average female when she agrees to go out on a date with a guy.  I present, for your consideration, the thoughts of the female (Specimen 1), and the male (Specimen 2):
Specimen 1: “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe he asked me out! What am I going to wear? How should I do my hair? How much make-up should I wear?  I wonder if he’ll try to kiss me.  Should I let him kiss me? I’m going on a diet for the next three days. “ … and so forth.
Specimen 2: “Well, I guess we’ll go eat some food and go see a movie.”

Now this breakdown of the male thought processes doesn’t mean we don’t care.  It just means we are very, very simple creatures.  In fact, I cared very much about this first date, considering I had known this girl for years and this was my attempt to move out of the nebulous “friend zone” with her and perhaps on to something more.  My real point of deliberation came when I had to decide, “Which movie are we going to watch?”

There is never any shortage of date movie film fodder to engage in at your local theater.  It is a safe bet that on any given Friday night you can religiously turn to J. Lo, Jennifer Aniston and many other titans of the “romantic comedy” genre to provide you with a way to kill 90 minutes with a companion.  But I wanted to take my date to something special.  Something with heart.  So I decided to forego any chick flick or superhero movie (I’d already seen The Dark Knight five times anyway.)  I chose to take her to see Wall-E.

I had already seen Disney/Pixar’s latest animated film once that summer, but something about it resonated with me.  Maybe it was the robots.  Maybe it was the spaceships.  Or maybe it was the very simple love story at the center of it all.   It made me think about that special girl who had agreed to go out with me.  She was still going out with me, right? Check my phone. Ok, no messages telling me it was all a prank, or that she spontaneously feels extreme repulsion when she thinks of me.  It was still on.

So the Friday night finally came. I picked her up at her apartment and we set out for some dinner.  I casually noted the shoes she was wearing.  Brief digression – perhaps the best advice my sister ever gave me was to check out a girl’s shoes when going on a first date.  According to my sister, the nicer a girls shoes, the higher the probability that she is really into you.  And my date was at this moment wearing red high heels.  I deposited this bit of information into my sister’s “foot apparel to flirtatiousness” mathematical equation and after mild deliberation determined that this girl really did like me.  Wow.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like eating my chinese food. My stomach was feeling funny again.

After our meal we headed to the movie theater.  We got our tickets, went inside, and were soon seated in the intimidatingly permissive semi-darkness within.  In an act of sheer, unbridled audacity, I lifted up the armrest so that there was nothing separating us.

“These things are for strangers,” I joked.  She laughed.  My armpits were getting wet.

I knew I wanted to hold her hand at some point during the movie.  But when? I couldn’t try for it too early. What if she got uncomfortable and my hand got sweaty and we had to awkwardly let go? No, not too early.  But it couldn’t be too late either.  I couldn’t just grab at her palm in the last five minutes during the movie’s climax.  No.  It had to be just right.  I had thought about this; it had to be the perfect amount of hand-holding time, preferably in the early third act of the film.  If my thought process seems a little neurotic, it was.  Maybe I had thought about more than just dinner and a movie after all.

The time finally came.  In a touching moment of the movie, Wall-E is literally crushed and Eve, the object of his affections, begins to realize how much he means to her.  This was it.  The moment was right.  Shaking in abject terror, I lightly reached over, tapped my date’s arm, and I extended my open hand to her.

She smiled, and grasped my hand tightly.

It was a good thing I had already seen the movie, because the rest of it was a blur to me.  As we left the theater, I grabbed a Wall-E and Eve sticker from a coin machine and presented it to my date.  We walked out into the parking lot together.  She came up from behind me and took my hand.  If pure elation was a drug, then I O.D.’ed ten times over in that moment.

Now it is four years later, and that girl is my wife.  We both have very strong affection for the movie Wall-E and the memories it brings of our first date.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t go see something like Fast and the Furious 8 or Generic Kate Hudson Rom-Com on your first date.  It’s hard to get nostalgic about mess like that.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Life-Long Interests: Turtles

I can’t remember if my affection for turtles began with my childhood pets or the Teenage Mutant Ninja variety.  Maybe I discovered both around the same time and my love of each fed into one another. Either way, I enjoy a good turtle.

My dad tells the story of our next-door neighbor overhearing me in the backyard talking about Donatello and Michelangelo, and later telling my father about how I was such a gifted young lad due to my vast knowledge of Renaissance artists. I think it must have pained Dad to break it to him that I was just playing Ninja Turtles and in fact had no idea who those artists were. Looking back, if I were Dad, I would have faked it and said, “Yes, my son is a genius. Thank you for noticing.”
Anyway, I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I would pore over my comic books of them, draw pictures of them, and pretend to be them. Like everyone else, Michelangelo was my favorite because he was, obviously, a party dude. Or so the theme song told me.
However, I took to a liking of turtles beyond the pop culture realm when I was given a box turtle that a family member had found wandering aimlessly through their neighborhood.  I loved all animals, but this little guy was so unique and new to me.  I loved the symmetrical designs on his shell, his weird little beady eyes, and the smooth but scaly skin. Of course, the trait I appreciated most of all was the hilarious way he would force all of his body up inside that shell when he scared, confused, or just plain cranky. I named him Peeker, because I liked the way he would peek out at me. Let’s not laugh at a 5-year-old’s choice of a name for his pet reptile. Peeker is just as good a name for a turtle as any I can now think of.
And then another turtle was found and given to me. I named him David, which is a much more proper name for a gentleman turtle. Now I had a pair of wicked cool pet box turtles. All I needed then were two more just like them, and canister of mutagenic ooze, and a sensei rat to instruct them in the ancient path of the martial arts. I didn’t just have a couple of pets; I had a collection.
The turtles new home became a small pen in the garden outside. My mom painted the turtles’ shells so I could be sure to tell them apart. After all, what could be worse for a domesticated turtle than to suffer the indignity of an identity crisis? The two turtles seemed to get along fine. They laid around in the dirt and shared lettuce. If they ever fought, I didn’t know about it. Life was pretty good for them. But it was about to get more interesting.
Another turtle was found and added to the pack. And yet, this one was different. It was a little bit bigger, broader, and dare I say curvier. That’s because this one was a “she.” Naturally, her shell was then denoted with pink acrylic and she was named Shelley. And David and Peeker discovered new recreational activities that would surely give reason to make their Teenage Mutant counterparts blush. Little turtle eggs were soon discovered.
After the baby turtles hatched, they would often escape the confines of the pen that the human oppressors had forced upon them and we would find the adolescent reptiles all around the yard.  I was in turtle heaven (which incidentally is much better than lizard or frog heaven, because turtles aren’t fast so you can always catch them, hold them, and force them to love you.)
I can’t recall the exact reason why, but eventually the turtle farm seemed to become too much for my parents to handle, and they convinced me that the turtles would be happier in the wild. I still remember the car ride out to an open meadow, tapping my little buddies on their shells and telling them goodbye.  When I placed them down in the field, they happily scurried forward into their new destiny at quite a keen pace. And that was the end of my pet turtles.
Throughout my life, I’ve always held onto this affection for turtles, maybe just because the thought of those pets brings me happy memories. I’ve even tried to find box turtles at various pet stores, but apparently no place carries them anymore.  They only ever have those snooty water turtles with the red stripes on their necks, but who wants one of those? I’ve stopped several times on the side of the road whenever I think that I have spotted a box turtle, but I’ve never been able to procure another specimen. But I guess it’s just as well. I live in an apartment now with my wife and two cats. We don’t really have room for a turtle terrarium. I guess I’ll just have to be happy with the memories of those little guys I used to play with in the back yard.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What Canada Means To Me

Basically, here's what I know about Canada:

-They have a red and white flag with a big maple leaf on it.
-They all seem to like hockey a lot.
-It’s cold up there.
-Some of them speak French. All of them seem to say, “Eh?” alot.
-Their national anthem is “O Canada” and it begins with the words,
 “O Canada.”
-Famous Canadians: William Shatner, that guy who created Ren and Stimpy, and Wolverine.
-They have Mounties. Or at least they do in the movies.
-Toronto has some kind of Space Needle, but they don’t call it that.
-I’m pretty sure Canada is plagued by ferocious roaming moose packs which control
 the northern-most portions of the country.
-Their bacon isn’t really bacon. It’s just chewy slices of ham.

Video Breakdown: That Keanu Coke Commercial

Here’s a delightful little gem from the 80’s featuring the singularity known as Keanu in one of his earliest and undoubtedly greatest performances.

I know nothing about competitive cycling, but here’s the knowledge I gleaned about the sport after watching this.

A)  Wearing a futuristic bike helmet with lots of big, gaping holes in it makes you look way cooler, but it doesn’t really help you go much faster. So it’s basically a fashion statement, but I can dig it.
B)  In your moment of desperation, when it looks like you can’t go any further, you must spur yourself on with an inspirational flashback. Preferably of that time you were sitting on the front porch with your father who often likes to wear some kind of weird lumberjack coat and offer you generic platitudes.
C)   You’ve really got to want it. To validate this motivation, repeat out loud to yourself that you do indeed want it.
D)  None of these things are good enough because you will still finish second.
E)   After you’ve finished your cycling marathon, you will be incredibly parched and your lungs will no doubt feel like they are exploding within you. Now is the perfect moment to gulp down a carbonated beverage. Let the searing bubbles burn their way down your gullet and hydrate your weary body.
F)   When your performance is sub-par, make sure you give the credit to your father. It’s what I like to call “shifting the blame.”
G)   Coke is obviously it.

Death In The Upholstery

Have you ever lost someone so close, so near and dear to you, that it blasts a gaping hole right through your very soul? I have. And so, to honor the memory of my departed friend, I have composed this eulogy.

R.I.P. The Quail Couch 197? - 2012
The Quail Couch, affectionately known to friends and family as "Quailey," was a lovely, comfortable sofa that presumably originated in the 1970's. He was a good and loyal item of furniture who followed his final owner, Kevin Blalock, through the years of collegiate education and beyond. Quailey was always there to offer a soft cushion to sit upon, and a delightful collage of wild game birds to gaze upon. He passed away in February of this year after habitually being mistaken as a scratching post by two wicked cats. That, and he was extremely old. This final picture, taken in front of a local dumpster, shows Kevin reclining across his beloved couch one final time. "I guess the angels just needed to sit on him more than I did," said Mr. Blalock, choking back tears. Quailey left behind a wooden splinter and three pieces of lint.

Final thoughts: The other day I saw a flock of birds soaring high above me at twilight. I think it was Quailey's way of letting me know that wherever he was, he was doing ok.

The Sea Monkey Conspiracy!

Yes. The much maligned Sea Monkeys.

While rediscovering some of my old comics, I came across this ad in one of the books. Suddenly, a veritable sea of memories came crashing over me. Oh, how I had once longed to own those precious Sea Monkeys! What wonders these magical, pink, little humanoid animals must have held! And according to the ad, you could even easily train them to do tricks! Brilliant! And for only $1.25? How could I go wrong?!

Of course, once I presented the ad to my parents, I was told it was all a lie. "They don't really look like this. It's a trick to make you want to buy them." I was sure that they didn't know what they were talking about. It was all right there. In the advertisement. And advertisements can't lie. I was sure of it.

But I never got the chance to see these beautiful little Pepto Bismol sea horse creatures in action. And now I'm glad, because I'm sure the realization that my dear Sea Monkeys were actually common brine shrimp would have brought my world crashing down around me.

Here's the most incredible part of the ad: "Best of all, we even show you how to teach them (the sea monkeys, that is) to obey your commands like a pack of friendly trained seals. What a way to surprise your guests." Even at a young age, I should have become suspicious after reading that, considering they couldn't even muster up one measly exclamation point to cap off this astounding claim. Can you imagine that poor child that tried to impress his friends with the trained seal antics of his pet shrimp? I bet that kid got beat up at school. And called "Sea Monkey Boy." And slow danced against the gym wall by himself at prom.

I guess the moral of the story here is to never trust an ad for glorious little fish-men who raise happy families and live in a castle under the sea and anxiously await your bidding to do tricks. It ain't real. Notice the fine print in the ad: "Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia Salina." You got that right. What exactly were you trying to depict then? Jerks.

My First Comics

So I did some digging the other day and uncovered a few childhood treasures: my very first comic books. I remember carrying them around with me everywhere I went. They are now wrinkled and faded, but still in pretty good shape. Check 'em out:

This is my very first comic. It is dated 1988, which means someone bought it for me when I was a wee lad of 2 years. This may come as a surprise, but I was somewhat illiterate as a 2 year old, shameful I know, but I enjoyed looking at the pictures all the same. I was a big Ducktales fan; if you weren't, I don't think I like you very much.

This is a Marvel "What If?" comic from 1991. These are stories about alternate realities and the theoretical storylines that might emerge from them. Pretty substantial stuff for a 5 year old to try and grasp. Wendigo combined with Wolverine? Punisher/Iron Man? Of course, I didn't have any idea what was happening here. But I knew this book had Captain America in it and he threw his shield at some guys, so I thought it  was pretty cool.

Here's an "Uncle Scrooge" comic from '92. My love for talking ducks continued, and I remember liking this one. Especially the cover. It's funny that even though I'm older, I appreciate old "Uncle Scrooge" comics much more than I did as a little tyke. Carl Barks and Don Rosa were great storytellers. The famous rumor states that George Lucas was directly inspired by many of the adventures in "Scrooge" comics when creating Indiana Jones! 

Ah, my first Batman comic book, dated December '92. Most Batman comics were very dark and not necessarily geared towards kids, but this book was based on the newly emerging "Batman: The Animated Series" and was child-friendly. The show was awesome and so were these books, so I collected this series for years. You may notice the odd pen drawing and subsequent Scotch tape over Joker's nose. This comic suffered inadvertent misfortune when I accidentally placed a discarded piece of chewing gum on the cover. I discovered what I had done later, and much to my dismay, the old gum was now fused to the cover. . . IRREVOCABLY. I pulled the gum off, ripping off a piece of the cover, and ripping my heart in half as well. Fortunately, I had an artistic mother who took the time to recreate Joker's face and tape it in place for me. And then I could live again.