Monday, April 22, 2013

This Post Is No Longer Trending

The following post was conceived while the sports-watching nation winced simultaneously as Kevin Ware broke his leg awkwardly and painfully during the NCAA Tournament. I never quite got back into my initial thoughts for my story in the aftermath of the incident that at the time was analyzed like the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination; as I’m easily distracted by life.   

It’s only been a few weeks but I barely remember the Final Four and after this past week’s focus on the chaos in and around Boston delving into the ramifications of one basketball player’s broken leg seems pointless.  I am in no way intending to make a grand statement on the fragility of an athlete’s career or to delve deeply into the comparison of the media’s focus on one athlete’s broken leg with the loss of limbs and life sustained in Boston. In fact I can assure you this is the last time I use the word delve in this story.

As I get back to the normality of my random pop culture thoughts I realize Kevin Ware’s injury is now as topical as Psy appearing in commercials running in March promoting his love of eating pistachios “gangam style.” Watching that ad about three months after his 15 minutes of “trending” viral fame had reached its crescendo, made him seem as relevant pop culturally as the Macarena guys, Dana Carvey’s George Bush Sr. impersonation or “The Noid.”

I personally spent a good portion of high school not going out on dates on Saturday nights, with the only benefit socially in college being an expertly honed ability to mimic all of Dana Carvey's impersonations. It’s a shame that I rarely find the opportunity now to break a lull in a conversation with a well timed- “Not gonnnnna doittttt. Not gonnnnna doitttt. I don’t think I’ll have another Keystone Light at this juncture. Bitter beer face is badddd. It’s badddd.”

I have spent the past 20 years or so making sure that I live a “Noid” free existence and this might have cost me a possible relationship or two along the way but it was well worth it. For those of you under 35, who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Noid was a demented claymation character in late’80s Dominos Pizza ads that for some reason was hell bent on ruining the inherent goodness of Dominos pizzas.

I don’t know how associating your brand of food with an annoying bug-like creature could possibly have been thought of as a great idea for an ad campaign; even if you’re thwarting the Noid's nefarious intentions and delivering Dominos pizzas to your target audience of overworked, single parent/ divorced households in Phoenix and anyone enrolled in college saving money for beer.  For one, the Noid resembled some sort of Ritalin addicted combination of the the Heat Meiser & Cold Meiser, with rabbit ears, except it only spoke in high-pitched mumbles (as opposed to catchy song and dance numbers.) He also wore a red costume and a mask for some reason as if the Noid was hiding his secret identity as Mark Mannix, mild mannered Metropolis food inspector. 

 Kevin Ware’s broken leg is probably only still being discussed this week in barber shops in Louisville in which Kevin Ware happens to be waiting in,  but it is still more relevant than the story I have been thinking about since the early ‘80s and will eventually devote the proper time and energy into. The working title is “Nellie Olson. TV’s First C**t.”  But, that is a subject for another day and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Since my school had already been eliminated in the Sweet 16, as Arizona is historically prone to do and I did not fill out a bracket sheet with the other random assortment of freelancers/ med students/ 23-year- old girls having informational interviews with former sorority sisters, schizophrenics,  women knitting the hat current resting on their head, and Jews for Jesus members hanging out at Starbucks-  I was not watching the Louisville-Duke game when Kevin Ware suffered the gruesome bone break that was heard ‘round the world and unfortunately around the court.

I read about it on Facebook and started noticing the shocked comments building in rapid succession comparing it to when a rampaging Lawrence Taylor accidentally snapped Joe Theisman’s leg. The way Ware's leg twisted in almost cartoonish fashion as he landed awkwardly after jumping to attempt a block  made him look like a G.I. Joe doll  that was tossed against a wall by a hyper 8-year old.  It seemed the entire sports watching world was having a collective moment of shock and a guttural, physical repulsion that reminded me of Tone Loc wiping his tongue dry after noticing Ace Venture reveal Lt. Einhorn’s ‘winky.’

I am in no way trying to make light of the pain that a young basketball player suffered. I understand the physically and emotionally taxing road he has ahead of him in rehab and I hope he makes it back to the court. It’s the collective, seemingly primal reaction that everyone who saw it seemed to experience at once that made me take notice.  I was watching a replay with my girlfriend who has had her share of ankle sprains from a childhood spent dancing and she hid from the replay on the news like there was a mouse about to leap off the top of the TV.

I feel like anyone who has ever experienced any sort of sprain or broken bone in their life felt a psychological twinge of residual pain, like when a twin who lives across the country gets hit by lightening or stubs a toe really hard and the other twin feels a slight shiver down their spine while calmly washing dishes.

This is how the psychic twin phenomenon was presented to us in old sci fi movies and TV shows and what I’d like to believe is true but if extreme pain caused a slight shiver, wouldn’t an incredible, leg shaking orgasm of a woman in California illicit a goofy grin or a raised eyebrow from her twin drinking coffee in Seattle.  I’m not saying she should all of a sudden grab the hair of the guy serving her a frothy latte and hold on while she shakes the cup as coffee spills onto the table and her hand. But, if there was anything to this twin psychic mind meld, you’d see a lot more women and men smirking and saying “Hey now” for no apparent reason and this supposed phenomenon would have been proven a scientific fact long ago.

Does it make me a desensitized-to-violence, inhuman cyborg that I can watch footage of someone breaking their leg like Sea Biscuit and not want to immediately switch the channel to anything less abhorrent to the senses, such as a rerun of the show Yes Dear or a live E! News Special Report from Kim Kardashian's  uterus?  Besides muttering "Holy crap, that's fucked,” I still felt the need to watch it over-and-over again on YouTube to see just how awkward his landing was to cause that severe a break.  

Does that make me as analytically cold and removed as Dexter dissecting a corpse or Sheldon trying to dissect a human feeling on The Big Bang Theory? Am I doomed to wander the barren emotional wasteland of the NY dating scene again as my girlfriend re-evaluates her decision to share a bed with someone who purposely looks up footage of a man injuring himself that caused her to cringe in residual pain and hide under the covers?

Possibly my curiosity stemmed from the fact that I have never broken a bone or even sprained an ankle, so even though I can imagine what it must feel like it prompted more of a curiosity than a repulsion. I have been lucky in that my athletic prowess lies in my ability to play air hockey, which outside of a few bars in Edmonton, is a pretty much a non-contact sport.

There are many questions about the amazing power and frailty of the human body and mind that I will never answer. As for myself, my pain-filled curiosity was short-lived and my attention switched to other trending topics of the day that resonated with me for as long as it takes to read a few hash-tagged comments.

 I may have the occasional mildly sinful thought at inopportune times and in random places (like waiting on a line at CVS) but I’m a good person who loves his friends and family. One of the secrets to sanity surely has to be surrounding yourself with people who you don't find annoying.  Even though we can’t always avoid pain and suffering in life, isn’t it somewhat comforting to know that we can always avoid the Noid?  I think so.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lighten Up Francis

 A few hours after Monday's bombing at the Boston Marathon had occurred and enough time had passed for it to resonate with those tuned into social media or watching the news, I read someone's purposefully rude response to a friend’s post on facebook.  She made a comment on the stupidity of facebook’s always changing ways, like anyone on facebook is wont to do on a seemingly daily basis. 

On a day not marred by a senseless tragedy it would’ve garnered a few likes. But, this guy seemed like he was incensed at her for having the gall to change the subject from sorrow to the mundane and talk about anything besides the tragedy in Boston. 

This was after the simple outpouring of thoughts and prayers with the people of Boston had begun to blend in with the creative memes posted online, like ones using quotes from Mr. Rogers, or photos of a red sock bleeding onto a red apple. (I didn’t see that one but the copywriter in me thinks it would’ve made a stark image.)

The memes and quotes posted were designed to sum up our collective urge to scratch our heads at humanity or a lack thereof, in visually creative ways and the sharing of which is somewhat of a slight bonding mechanism for people. We live in a society that has now connected people who may or may not know each other well or at all and can read each other’s random, spur-of-the-moment thoughts, which should for the most part be taken with a grain of salt.

It has always annoyed me when someone goes out of their way to point out the so-called social faux pas that others make, which is much douchier than the actual breaking of a social norm.  Several years ago I was stuck in my thoughts waiting for an elevator door to open. (This seems a more appropriate description than the term ‘riding’ in an elevator. The act of riding in or on anything seems like it should require some anticipation of enjoyment, like riding a roller coaster, or riding on the back of an ATV  as your 8th grade friend who had an iguana and got the Showtime channel in the early ‘80s drives it over the creek in his backyard.) As the door to the elevator is about to open the woman in front of me, who had her back to me, sneezed.

She turned around and said “Bless you” while over-enunciating and dragging out the youuuuuu. Her cartoonish and childish response and "put off" reaction to my ambivalence brought to mind  Francis, Pee Wee Herman’s arch-nemesis in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The sour puss expression on her face reminded me of my 7th grade Math teacher and like her, I think it's not too far off of a presumption to say she might have been going home to an old cat named Mr. Squiggles and an angry looking vibrator named Mr. Tickles.

She acted as if I had just  lifted up my shirt and picked a piece of lint out of my navel before asking if she wanted it as a memento of our ten-floor trip together, when I was just clearly following New York City protocol of not letting things strangers do register with me. It seemed such a misplaced reaction that I was caught off guard and had no immediate response to her bitchiness.

 I was too stunned to reply back with a response like “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I fail to acknowledge that you blew germs out of your mouth into the air hovering above the enclosed space we unfortunately are forced to ride in together during flu season, your royal highness? I’m such a fool. Take my 1950s era handkerchief that I keep folded in the pocket of my hoodie sweatshirt, please. (In my anger I would assume I wouldn’t have had the time or the desire to go into why “ride” is not the best word to describe travelling in elevators.) But, alas my mouth was stuck in a half-smile/half amazed grin as she left the building in a huff.   

There was another occasion of public ridiculousness that I encountered that I will surely not soon forget. I was walking past a bar in my area that was as "Jersey Shore" as you can get on a weekend night in Manhattan and I saw a girl doing something that left me in a state of pause.

I graduated from the University of Arizona and live in Murray Hill, so I have come across the occasional drunk, young guy urinating in the street.  Most guys pee facing a wall, usually with one of their friends as a lookout. This inebriated young lady who I happened to come upon, was holding up her skirt as she relieved herself into the avenue while squatting with surprising dexterity and leaning against a wall next to the bar. 

  I stopped in my tracks with my mouth open once again, at first disgusted by the act itself, but then I became kind of awed by the fact that she was nonchalantly propelling this high-arcing stream that seemed to want to touch the sky. I felt like a tourist standing in front of the Fountain at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. I was transfixed for a longer-than-expected moment and didn't know whether I should toss a coin at her feet and make a wish or take a photo.

 I decided against the photo, since she didn't need me pointing out her social faux pas and making a spectacle of her abilities best utilized at a Tijuana bachelor party. My favorite part of stumbling upon this public showing of a private act was the fact that she had two friends that were flanking her on both sides; as if it was possible to camouflage the fact that she was blissfully spraying the length of the sidewalk like she was Larry Bird floating up a continuous array of old-school three-pointers out of her urethra.

I’d rather think about this random act of craziness than the crazy act of horror like the senseless bombing on Monday in Boston.  The fact is there are people out there who seem to want to disrupt our Facebook obsessed, Game of Thrones watching, Target shopping society.  An act as despicable as this will unfortunately stay in the back of our minds but we can’t dwell all the time on fear and chaos or the crazies win in the end.  

The reason Israelis don't wake up every day and play Russian roulette while drinking fizzy bubbly/crystal meth cocktails (otherwise known as a Very Dark and Stormy) is that they don't let fear control their daily lives. Hopefully, cowardice bombings won't ever become a common occurrence in this country that we have to get used to, but there's nothing wrong with talking about other things that happen in our lives during times of distress, and especially after an unimaginable act of evil. 

The use of humorous, well timed sarcasm as well as complaining about the day-to-day stuff that bothers us provide a necessary release from thinking about things that can weigh us down emotionally. I’m not saying not to acknowledge that the world can be a fucked up, hate-filled place, because it obviously can. But, it’s also the world that gives you beautiful little everyday treasures, like the smell of a fresh pot of coffee percolating in the morning, Buttermilk Eggo waffles with syrup on top toasting in the kitchen, and waking up with a morning erection, next to a beautiful woman who has just percolated your coffee and buttered your waffles. And that’s just the amazing treats we enjoy before leaving our homes and noticing the budding cherry blossom flowers on our streets and the clear blue spring sky.

The subtle art of complaining about life’s little annoyances, affectionately known as kvetching, has gotten my ancestors through thousands of years of nomadic craziness and persecution, not to mention Brooklyn in the 1940's. I believe it was the immortal words of Alfred E. Newman, who once said “What, me worry?” I also believe that it was the slightly less memorable words of my Great Aunt Silvia who might have said on more than one occasion during The Great Depression- “10 cents for a loaf of bread? What am I made of money?”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Siskel & Ebert Give Think Fink Two Shrugged Shoulders Up.

I don’t want to eulogize Roger Ebert here because I don’t know anything about Roger Ebert, the man. His passing has gotten me reflecting on his career as Roger Ebert, the critic and how his movie reviews influenced my views on movies for almost as long as I have been watching them.  

Roger Ebert, along with his former partner in crime, Gene Siskel, brought the film critic out from behind the cloak of a newspaper byline and on to the Sony Trinitron TV resting on the trunk in my family’s den.  Being part of the first cable generation, I devoured movies on TV, like other kids consumed Pepsi, Sprees and Cool Ranch Doritos, which is a perfect combination to suit the discerning palate of any 12-year-old foodie in the ‘80s.

As an aside, the reason foodies are more annoying than hipsters, although one can easily be both, is because most people have never opened a conversation after sitting down at a restaurant on a first date like this-”You know I read about this place in New York Magazine and I have been dying to try it. I hope you don’t mind that it’s a bit expensive but the chef supposedly once worked in the kitchen at Babbo. Have you ever been to Babbo? I love Babbo.  I’m kind of on a truffle oil kick right now. You know, I have to admit, I’m kind of a foodie.”

If you offer up that you’re kind of an anything to show off your knowledge of something in the first two minutes of meeting someone, you’re usually kind of an ass.  

My digression into a rant on food snobs has nothing to do with Roger Ebert except for the fact that he was a master at pointing out things in movies that annoyed him.  I started watching Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies around the same time that video stores began popping up in every suburban strip mall. If you got a 'Thumbs Up' by both Siskel & Ebert your movie was most likely going to do well.

Their entertaining bickering, Laurel and Hardyish appearance (or Spade and Farleyish appearance for those too young enough to remember black and white comedies on TV) and opposing viewpoints on whether a movie was worth a “Thumbs Up,” lead to a perfectly natural on-screen chemistry. They not only engaged you into thinking about why you should or should not see a movie but they also introduced you to what was playing at the theaters in a time before Google. I’m pretty sure Ebert would have hated the film “A Time Before Google” for its predictable ending and wooden acting performances but Siskel might have given it a reluctant thumbs up for its surprisingly satirical script and tight dialogue.

Ebert’s review of the movie North is remembered for breaking the record for the amount of times the word hate has been used in a review of anything that a human has ever had to endure. His quote from his review for Freddie Got Fingered is equally as classic. "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as barrels."

If Siskel and Ebert were to review my blog, I’m sure it would go something like this:

Siskel: “The next blog we’re going to review is Think Fink. It is filled with a random collection of fictional stories and observations from a man who clearly has too much time on his hands. At the same time, he doesn't post often enough for the viewer to get sucked in to his haphazard, yet whimsical observations. There is something here though and even though he tends to put himself in the center of his mostly fictionalized tales that often go off on major tangents in the middle of thought processes, I liked where he was taking me. I found myself laughing out loud on more than a few occasions and I give it a reluctant but surprising 'shrugged shoulders up'."

Ebert: “Gene, I agree with you in the fact that the voice behind Think Fink seems to get as distracted in his own thoughts as a child trying to recite lines in a school play while fireworks suddenly go off outside the window. But, that's kind of what this new ‘blog’ medium is all about. The writer is no longer limited by the narrative rules of a screen play or novel. His sensibility seems to have grown out of a steady diet of John Hughes movies and Pop Rocks and you get the feeling there is a bad ‘80s sit-com constantly going on inside his head but I found myself rooting for his ‘Fink’ character. I even thought about it afterwards. albeit briefly."

"There is a romantic, hopeful side that is pervasive throughout his sarcastic pop culture references. In the story about climbing out of barrel full of monkeys, you want this likable dreamer to get out of that figurative barrel and get ‘the girl in the dorm room next door.’ Normally, I would have stopped reading at his Greatest American Hero song parody on experiencing a "fridgid finkie" which on the surface seems as infantile as a porn title, but what can I say, it sucked me in.  This writer might not be ‘the greatest’ or even a hero but I found myself enjoying the view from his world and I give “Think Fink” a less reluctant ‘shrugged shoulders’ up.”

In short, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel helped me learn to articulate why I like movies, why I hate movies and why I love to hate movies that other people like and for that I'm grateful.  I'm not sure if Roger Ebert would phrase it quite this way but you know, I have to admit, I’m kind of a goonie.