Saturday, September 06, 2008

So Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part III

Below is a chronicle of my recent attempt to be a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during the show's Walk In and Win! promotion. If you haven't read Part I and II yet, you might want to scroll down and do so before reading this entry. This entry deals with the actual taping of the show. Because all of us who tried out for the show signed confidentiality agreements, I can't reveal what happened in front of the camera.

1:20 pm Taping was supposed to start already, but we're doing what we've been doing all day - something I like to call "structured waiting". Jim is sitting next to me. He's still talking.

1:30 pm (approximately) The warm-up comic, Paul Mecurio, comes out. It seems his main job is to tell us how to laugh and clap. There are no microphones over the audience, so in order for the stage mics to pick up laughter and applause from the audience, it has to be exaggerated, much louder than normal. "When you laugh, don't do one of those little Jeopardy laughs - you know, 'heh, heh, heh'. Give a big belly-laugh, 'HA!', real loud like that. So go ahead, do it, everybody say 'HA!'"

"HA!!" we all scream enthusiastically at the top of our lungs. We sound less amused, and more like a bunch of psychotic ninjas about to attack. But what would you expect from a crowd of loopy, materialistic people who have been waiting for ... my God, how long have I been here?

Almost 2 pm-ish Time is beginning to lose meaning now. Must keep it together.

Paul has wrapped up his warm-up bit, and we finally begin taping. I say "we" begin taping, but it's not like I'm helping to run the camera or anything. Not that I would mind that. In fact, it might make me more interested in what's going on.

Meredith Viera comes out and begins doing an opening monologue to start the show. Now we're getting somewhere! It's about time we got this party started! No, wait. She walked out incorrectly, so they have to tape that part over again.

After several minutes, Meredith comes out again. She manages to walk out correctly, gets through the monologue, and picks up the envelope containing the number of the first contestant chosen. It's not my number. Oh well, maybe the next one.

Later, I think Time has lost all meaning for me now. The first contestant has been seated, and is asked the first question. Of course, the "D" answer is always a joke answer. We laugh with appropriately mild amusement. That's not good enough, though. So Paul Mecurio comes out and signals to us to laugh louder. "HA!" we respond, remembering our battle cry. I'm not sure that's what he was expecting either.

First Show, First Commercial Break During the first commercial break after a new contestant has started, that contestant is brought back-stage for make-up and to be fitted with a microphone. There is no time to do these things before-hand, since he comes straight from the audience to the stage. I guess that means he has to spend the first part of the game trying to speak up while his skin looks all splotchy.

Meredith is also taken back stage. She is only brought out when it is time to tape. Maybe she'll spoil if she's left out too long. She looks good, though. I've never seen someone made up so well that she makes everyone else in a stadium look homely by comparison.

Paul comes out and tells us we didn't laugh loud enough. I feel like I've let Paul down. He makes us practice again. "HA!"

In Between First and Second Shows The audience is not made up entirely of potential contestants and their families. Half of the audience is made up of people visiting the park today. Those people get to leave after the first show. We can't even get up to go to the bathroom, at least not by ourselves. Again, we're told we'll be allowed to go to the restroom in small, escorted groups. It's alright. They've been wearing me down gradually so that I've been slowly loosening my grip on my own dignity anyway. Before the restroom announcement, I was holding on by the tip of my pinky. So why not let go completely?

Time to placate the restless horde. You would think it would take a lot to make content a large group of poorly-fed, bladder-filled, bored people sitting on uncomfortable seats. You would be wrong. Apparently, all it takes is cheap T-shirts that smell like Vinegar. Loud music starts to play, and crew members come out to throw these T-shirts into the audience. Here's the part that fascinates me - the crowd goes wild. Everybody stands up and starts screaming for these shirts, like we're a bunch of naked refugees. I stand up, but I just can't bring myself to care enough to try hard to catch a shirt. Besides, I don't have a chance with my short, stubby arms on my Pillsbury Dough-Boy frame. Jim catches one. Being a nice guy, he offers it to me. I turn him down. I wouldn't feel right taking it, since he caught it. He catches another one and offers it to me. I take it this time. I have a shirt. Yahoo.

Eventually, more tourists file in to fill up the rest of the seats. They look so happy. I hate them.

Paul comes out to deliver another warm-up routine. It would make me laugh, were it not the exact same material he used before. In addition to the jokes, he gives the same instructions about laughing and clapping really loudly. Like a bunch of trained seals, we give him the "HA!", right on queue.

Sometime Later The second show has started. They unplug Meredith-bot and send her out to us. She's walking with the last contestant from the first show, holding hands. I think that would make me feel weird. Don't get me wrong, Meredith is attractive alright. But, since I've been married, I've not held hands with another woman. Besides, who knows where Meredith's hand has been?

A Break During the Second Show Paul comes out, as he does during every break, to tell us we're not laughing and clapping loud enough. I'm doing my best, Paul! What do you want from me?!!

Between the Second and Third Show It's not my turn. I haven't been given permission. But I get up and go to the restroom anyway. I feel like a rebel, no, I feel dangerous. Yeah, that's it. I'm a bad mammer jammer, and ain't nobody can stop me.
I just hope Meredith doesn't see me.

Same Break, Sometime Later My new buddy Jim and I get another chance to talk. Well, Jim does anyway. It turns out Jim is a pretty interesting guy. He has a really successful landscape business, which he started from nothing. When he started, all he had was one push-mower and a machete, to do the edging with. Now he owns a big house in a really nice part of town, and has several employees working for him. He's also putting two kids through college.
His brother has an even more successful cement-mixing business, which he also started from almost nothing. His brother has a fleet of trucks and is a self-made millionaire.
You wouldn't get this impression from talking to Jim. He seems like a simple good ol' boy from the sticks. But he has a pretty sharp business mind and thinks about a lot of deep things. He offers to take me fishing with him around Cape Canaveral. That would be an interesting day.

Loud music starts up again. Again with the T-shirts. The crowd goes wild again. It's not just people who didn't get shirts the first time. It's everybody. Jim is on his fifth shirt. What is wrong with these people?! Wait, I understand now. Everyone here is insane. I don't know whether they all came to the show this way, or it's the result of the torture the Millionaire people have put us through, but everyone here has lost their mind.
Jim confirms this for me later when he makes the comment, "You know, I don't care if I win any money. I think it's great just to be here and watch how they tape the show. I would be happy just to have the privilege of meeting Meredith." Yes, there can be no doubt now. Jim is one of them.
You know what's really frightening? I feel my own sanity slowly slipping away.

Even Later, Probably. I Don't Know. Who Cares Anymore? Paul comes out. Same schtick. Gag me.

Break During the ... What Is This, the Third Show? It's Only the Third Show? Gaaaagh!! Sheriff Paul of the Laughter Police comes out to scold us again about not laughing loud enough. I never knew I was capable of manufacturing such high levels of fake excitement. But I do it. Whenever they give the signal, I laugh obnoxiously loud, I cheer, I yell, I clap until my hands bleed. At one point, I even hear myself say the word, "Woo-hoo". Woo-hoo? Who-hoo?!!! I must hold on to what little is left of my sanity.

Dinner Break The third show is done taping and we break for dinner. They usher us backstage to the same bleak room where we waited before. During a brief moment of clarity, I manage to look at my watch. It's around 6:00 pm. What the - ? Crap! We were supposed to be almost done taping by now. But we still have dinner to eat and two more shows to tape. Crap!

More boxed food. This time it is fried chicken (which was probably warm at some point), something pretending to be an unidentifiable vegetable, a stale roll, and what is probably the highlight of my entire day - a big honkin' chocolate chip cookie. The cookie is just about the only edible part of the whole meal. Besides a couple bites of the chicken, it's the only part I eat. There isn't even any butter to go with the stale roll.

Jim gives me his cookie. This guy is a little too nice. He asks me what I do to relax.
Now for someone who is the least bit interesting, this would be an easy question to answer. The person who is the least bit interesting would start to describe some fascinating hobby of his, or would recount that latest book he is reading. I just wish I were the least bit interesting. "I dunno," I tell him, "watch TV, I guess."
"Do you drink, Bill?"
"Sure. Sometimes."
"I don't. I don't drink at all. I smoke a little weed, though. In fact, I have some in my pocket now."
Jim doesn't know it yet, but he and I will not be hanging out in the future.

Beginning of the Fourth Show We've all been T-shirted and laughter-lectured for the fourth time, so it's time to take the Meredith doll out of her special box so that we mere mortals may gaze upon her again.

Break During the Fourth Show Again with the scolding. Paul says he knows we're tired, but we need to show more excitement. I'll show as much excitement as I feel like! Do you hear me Paul? Do you? I'm beginning to believe maybe Paul can hear my thoughts. Good.

You probably can't tell, but I'm a little bitter right now. I can't tell you how many contestants have had their numbers called so far, but I can tell you I'm not one of them! Wait, I know what it is. Yes, that's it. Meredith hates me.

Break Between the Fourth and Fifth Show They tell us that no one will be allowed to get up to use the restroom this time. It's ok, because I'm starting to realize that I am actually one of those Disney animatronic robots, like the ones in the Hall of Presidents. After all, I stand up on command, sit down on command, cheer, laugh, clap, laugh louder, all on command. I even start to feel the bolts that fasten my feet to the floor. What would I need with the restroom anyway?

Again with the T-shirts. More insanity. For the love of God, people, it's the fourth time! Stop the insanity!

Paul comes out to do his warm-up routine again. He's done it so many times, I could do it. But, this time, even Paul seems tired. I almost expect him to say, "Laugh as loud as you want. Or don't laugh. I don't care." But he doesn't.

Fifth and Final (Thank God) Show Meredith starts out by saying, "Well, it's Friday..." and I believe her. How many days have I been here? I'll never be able to leave. I'll be spending eternity sitting in this stupid auditorium perfecting my fake laugh.

Sometime During the Fifth Show Paul again. 'Laugh louder', he says. Forget you, Paul! I'm not your trained monkey! I'm not going to laugh for you anymore! So there!

Sometime Later We have over an hour of tape, but the final contestant hasn't finished her game, and the show will be returning to its New York studios on Monday. So the Executive Producer decides we'll keep taping until the contestant loses, walks away, or wins the million dollars. This is the day that will never end!

End of the Fifth Show The contestant finishes her game. The studio lights do their flickering dance. The theme music plays. The crowd cheers wildly. We all stand up to leave. We're done! I can't believe it! I'm free! Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm... Wait. Paul comes out to tell us we have a little bit more to tape. No!!!!!!!!!!!!! I actually hear myself yell out at Paul, "Oh, come on!"

It seems there was something wrong with the equipment during the little get-to-know-you chat Meredith had with the last contestant. This is the part they tape again. Keep in mind, the contestant has already played her entire game.

Meredith: So, I understand you're a mom.

Contestant: Yes, I have two little girls.

Meredith: I bet they're excited that you're here.

Contestant: Oh yes, very excited.

Meredith: So, are you ready to get started?

Contestant: I sure am!

Meredith: Then let's get ready to play, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!

This would be funny if I were not ready to kill someone out of sheer crankiness.

Almost 11pm At last, they let us go. Almost 15 hours after I got here. This is one day of my life I will never get back.
I slip out into the crowd before Jim gets a chance to ask for my number. I finally make it outside and start the long walk to my car. I feel some drops of water on my head. It's starting to rain. Perfect, just perfect.

11:15 pm I'm home. My wife is in bed, half-asleep. "Did you win anything?" she asks.

Here it is, my chance to bring out what I have to show for this entire day, what reward I've received for all the waiting I did, something to justify how exhausted I am. I show her my T-shirt.

She rolls over briefly for a closer look. "It smells like vinegar," she says, then goes back to sleep.

Yep. Smells like vinegar.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

So Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part II

Below is a chronicle of my recent attempt to be a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during the show's Walk In and Win! promotion. If you haven't read Part I yet, you might want to scroll down and do so before reading this entry.

9:45 am We've been ushered into a back room in the building that contains the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! attraction. Here we line up to receive a package of legal papers to sign, get our picture taken, hand in our application, and go through a brief interview conducted by a producer.
I try to smile sincerely for my photo, making an effort to look happy and interesting instead of bored and tired. The photographer hands me the Polaroid. Wait, who's this balding fat guy in the picture? Oh God, it's me.

9:50 am I close my suit jacket more around my body and then look at my photo. For some reason, this trick doesn't make my image look any thinner.
I finally get to my brief interview with one of the producers. "So," he asks, looking at my application, "You're a 'reports specialist'. What's that?"
I try to explain and wind up boring myself in the process. I have no chance of getting to the Hot Seat.

10:00 am Since going through the line, I've been sitting on this folding chair which is slightly more comfortable, I imagine, than sitting on a rabid porcupine. We've all been told where to sit. We've also been told that we may not get up to use the bathroom. Basically, they're treating us with all the dignity one would give a first-grader.
Finally, one of the producers stands up before the audience to speak to us about the day's activities. He's got that trendy, I'm-looking-disheveled-on-purpose-because-I'm-a-cool-young-guy-look going on, complete with the bed-head hairdo. I wish I had enough hair left so that I could choose not to comb it like that.

10:45 am Young Unkempt Guy was followed by a couple of other crew members who basically re-iterated what he said. The last speaker is a cute young brunette who is evidently unaware she is holding a microphone. I've heard civil defense alarms that aren't as loud as she is. She is also the most condescending of all the speakers. She informs us that when we are allowed to use the restroom, we will be escorted out in small groups. Kindergarten all over again.
The whole time these people are speaking, all I can think of is calling my wife and using the bathroom (though not at the same time). I am anxious to find out what her plans are. Finally, we're allowed a couple of minutes to use cell phones if we have them. Unfortunately, no one's phones are working in the building, and they won't let us walk outside.
A lady loans me her phone to use. I am able to connect with my wife, but there's too much static. All I hear is, "Zzzkt! I zzzkt try zzzkt zzkt bus."
"No!" I yell into the phone. My wife, though young, isn't in the best of health, and it would take at least an hour and a half by bus to get from our house to the theme park. "Don't take the bus!" I yell. It's too late. The connection is dead and Loud Girl is telling us to sit down.

11:30 am For the last half-hour or so we've been subjected to the droning on of the show's attorney, who is wearing a necktie with a knot roughly the same size as his head. The first part of his speech deals with game strategy ("Don't choose answer 'D' on the first question"). Legal issues and instructions are the topics of the second part of his speech, which is almost more interesting than watching paint dry. The situation is made worse by certain, let's call them intelligence challenged, individuals in the crowd who insist on either asking him dumb questions or telling him lawyer jokes. Why are stupid people always the loudest?
The whole time all I can think about is my wife and how I hope she doesn't take the bus.

11:55 am Finally, I am escorted with a small group of other possible contestants outside to an area with both restrooms and payphones. When I get a hold of my wife, she tells me she went to the bus stop, but the one bus going to MGM has already left for the day. She starts to cry because she thinks she let me down. What a trooper. I assure her she hasn't let me down, and that I am in fact relieved that she didn't catch the bus. I won't have anyone in the audience, but it'll be ok.
From this point on, we are not allowed to contact anyone "on the outside" for the rest of the day. They tell us we are in "game show contestant isolation".

12:00 noon My group is back in the studio building where all the other potential contestants are eating lunch. I've been looking forward to this - I haven't had anything to eat all day. When my group gets to the lunch table, however, all of the bagged lunches are gone! It turns out some of the other contestants must have eaten more than one lunch - I bet they're the same contestants who were asking the lawyer dumb questions. It's ok though, one of the producers went to where the staff was eating and got some of their catered food for us. Their food is better anyway.

12:15 pm I sit down next to someone I'll call "Jim". "Jim" starts to talk to me and doesn't stop for another 45 minutes. I am amazed at his lung capacity. Still, our conversation is the most interesting thing to happen to me today. He tells me I'm easy to talk to. I think it's because I'm good at pretending to listen. He's a nice guy. We hit it off pretty well.

1:15 pm We are finally in the studio getting ready to tape... I hope.

Up next - So Who Wants to be a Millionaire Anyway? Part III

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Monday, September 01, 2008

So Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part I

Below is a chronicle of my recent attempt to be a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during the show's Walk In and Win! promotion.

5:50 am Saturday Morning
I am in my car in front of the Disney MGM theme park front gate, joining a long line of cars, which are full of hundreds of other people nutty enough to be up at this time on a Saturday. We are all on the same quest - we want to be contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
It's a long shot. There will eventually be 1200 of us. Of those, 325 will be chosen to be in the studio audience. Of those 325, 10 to 15 of us will be chosen to sit on the Hot Seat across from Meredith Viera. The rest of that 325 will have to sit through the taping of five episodes, even though they will not get a chance to win any money, which means a long day ahead.
We were supposed to be here by 6:00 am. I didn't leave as early as I would've liked. Let's just say I drove in a somewhat extralegal manner to get here.

6:00 am
The line starts moving. Slowly. Very slowly.

6:20 am
I have finally made it from the front gate to the parking lot. I get out of my car and rush to the ticket gate. Rush, not run. I am eager to be a millionaire, but not if it means looking like a dork. Even in Disney, it's important to be cool.

6:25 am
I am in line. A single-file line of 1200 people. I'm going to be here a while. I don't mind, though. After all, I'm going to be a millionaire! Woo-hoo!

7:00 am
I finally see what I am waiting for. Evidently, if you make it to the end of the line, you get a green wristband! There's only a couple hundred people ahead of me now!

7:55 am
I have my wristband! I am number 848 out of 1200. HA! Those poor saps behind me who still have to wait! HA!

8:00 am
They've seated us in the Indiana Jones stadium attraction, in pretty much the same order that we stood in line. Along the way here, we were directed by some Disney Police, dressed in their officially festive uniforms. I wonder what kind of person would be intimidated by someone dressed in glow-in-the-dark pastels.
We've been given applications to fill out while we are waiting in the stadium. It asks questions like "What's the wackiest thing you've ever done for a buck?", and "You won't believe this, but I [fill in blank]". I am trying to think of something interesting to write about myself. It's embarrassingly hard. The most interesting thing I can think to write is "I am a card-carrying member of the Cherokee nation, yet I don't look Indian!" I need to trade lives with someone.

8:35 am
A very nice man sitting in the next seat offers me a piece of gum. It's that brand that you have to pop the individual pieces out of this foil. Two of the pieces end up on the ground. The guy doesn't mind.
I start to fill out the form where I am to list my Phone-a-Friends. It says cell phone numbers are not allowed. What? I don't remember reading that on the Millionaire website! Who knows five people who can be available for eight hours straight on a Saturday? For all but one of my Phone-A-Friends, I only brought cell numbers. That leaves my 61-year-old mother, who would probably be somewhere herself, if not for wanting to be available for me today.
Soon, they'll be calling out numbers during the random selection process to see who will be in the audience. It's been around three hours since most of the people here arrived. I wonder how many of them have to pee.

9:00 am
A man on the stage wearing a blazer starts to speak. He has perfect hair. Helmet hair. Immovable hair. You need hair like that in Florida, what with the hurricanes and all.
Someone seated near me in the audience recognizes him as one of the local hosts of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! attraction here at the park.
He launches into a Howard Dean-style crazy speech, trying to whip us into a frenzy of excitement. "Who's ready to win some money? Who?"
Then he starts his Oprah impersonation, pointing at the audience, yelling, "You could be a millionaire! You could be a millionaire! You could be a millionaire!" Everyone responds with cheers and yells. We've caught it - Millionaire Fever!

9:15 am I realize now that there's a 75% chance I won't be picked to be among the 325. If I am picked, there's an even greater chance I won't be picked to be a contestant. That means, if I am picked to be in the audience, I could spend 14 hours here without even having a chance to play for any money. What am I doing here?

9:20 am They finally start drawing numbers. One person who get's picked screams "I'm going to be a millionaire!" I think he should have yelled, "I'm going to be an audience member! Woo-hoo!"
It's ok. I've convinced myself I won't be picked and thus won't have to waste my entire day here. I start to think about what I might do with the rest of my Saturday.

9:30 am My daydreams about the Saturday before me are interrupted when the nice chewing gum guy beside me says, "Wasn't that your number they just called out?"
It is. Dang.
The Chosen Ones line up at the top of the bleachers to receive yet another wristband.
A nice lady in front of me loans me her cell phone so I can call my wife. It's one of those tiny phones with buttons designed for Barbie doll fingers.
My wife and I have only one car (I drove it here) and she's not sure anyone will be available to pick her up and bring her to the show. There's no way she could've come here with me. She doesn't do 5 am. I'm beginning to think she's a lot saner than I am.
I can't talk long - one of the bossy people involved with the show is telling me to turn off the cell phone. I ignore the bossy person as long as I can, but I hang up not knowing if I'm going to have anyone in the audience. This could be awkward if I'm on the Hot Seat and Meredith asks who's at the show with me. "I'm married, Meredith, really. And I have friends. I'm not a loser, I swear!" I probably could have planned this better.

-Coming Soon: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part II

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Men's Room Etiquette

Gone are the days when men were men and women were women. By that I mean gone is the time when I could go to the men’s room without getting involved in a conversation. That bygone era was a golden age, marked by beautiful, dignified silence. It was a time when an unwritten law was understood by all men: “No talking in the Men’s Room”. This law was faithfully obeyed without exception.

Say, for example, a man were suddenly to notice standing at the urinal next to him his long-lost father whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years. Under normal circumstances, there would be some sort of immediate emotional reaction. Not so in the men's room. No, in this case the reunion would just have to wait until the business being transacted by both men at the urinals had been completed. Even then, only after stepping into the “safe speech zone” (in front of the sinks), could they start to make up for lost time.

Women wouldn’t understand this. The ladies’ room is a social gathering place for the fairer sex. In fact, going there is often a group activity for them. It almost seems as if women are afraid to visit the restroom alone. Try going to a restaurant with a group of women. No sooner will one woman announce her intention to visit the ladies’ room when every other female at the table will respond with great enthusiasm, “Ooh! Me too! I want to go with you!” Yes, for women, going to the head is not just necessary, it can be fun! I remember making a rather shocking discovery in this regard when I had a janitorial business and was about to clean a ladies’ room for the first time. There, right in the middle of the lavatory, was a couch – a couch, for Pete’s sake!

As a man, I can’t imagine any respectable use for a couch in the bathroom. I go to the restroom to do one or both of only two things – and neither is a group activity. Slowly, however, men are becoming more like women in their bathroom behavior. Nowadays, I can’t stand in front of a urinal without the guy next to me wanting to chat me up about any number of topics ranging from the weather, to the next presidential election, to Mary-Kate Olsen’s issues with food.

I blame this decline in dignified male behavior on the same thing I blame for all of society’s modern evils – the popularity of the cell phone. It is now common to hear the guy in the stall next to you happily bantering over the phone with his buddy. I will never understand why or how this became socially acceptable. How does the person on the other end of the conversation feel (unless he is also in a stall at the time)? There’s nothing like being called by a friend in the John that says, “I was just taking a dump, and thought of you”. (Note to anyone thinking of calling me while in the men’s room: Flush, wash your hands, then dial my number.) The point is, once it became alright to speak telephonically in the men’s room, all manner of conversation has become fair game.

I don’t know how I will cope with this de-evolution in men’s societal interaction. I shudder to think how far it might develop, and I fear for the younger generation of boys growing up today. I know one thing – If I walk into a men’s room one day and see a couch, I think I’ll just hold it in until I get home.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Haircut Odyssey

The other day I had the misfortune of witnessing the worst haircut ever performed on a human head. Once it was over, and much to my horror, I realized that the human head belonged to me. More on this haircut later. You see, this haircut was the culmination of a lifelong haircut odyssey, and to tell the story, I'll need to start at the beginning.

My earliest memories of getting my hair cut involve me sitting on a stool in the kitchen with a sheet tied around my neck so that it was just tight enough to trap most of the blood in my head, yet not quite tight enough to make me pass out. Achieving that delicate balance took the kind of skill that only my mother possessed. My mother had many skills and one of them she thought she had was cutting hair. What were her qualifications, you ask? Did she attend cosmetology school and achieve her certification? Did she acquire an apprenticeship with an established barber, which is required before one starts his or her own shop? No, no. Don't be silly. Apparently, all of that is just a big waste of time when you can buy electric hairclippers at K-Mart for $12.99. Take them home, open the box, and viola! you're instantly qualified to cut someone else's hair, especially if that someone is a person you can send to his room if he complains too much about the job you've done on his head.

As a barber, Mom was not one to take directions, or requests, or pleas for mercy. And that's perfectly logical. I mean, what makes me think I have any right to give input on how my own head should look? That would be downright presumptuous. The important thing after all was not that I look presentable enough to be seen in public, but rather that we not have to pay a real barber to cut my hair. Growing up through my socially formative years while looking like my head was involved in a freak lawn mower accident was well worth the $5.00 we saved by not going to a real Barber. Besides, requesting a certain hairstyle from Mom would have been futile anyway, since she knew only one way to cut hair - short. As you can imagine, that went over really big in the early eighties.

Another thing about my Mom's haircutting technique - she was not the gentlest of barbers. If my head was not in the optimal position for her, simply grabbing it and yanking it in to place was the most effective solution. I was not there to be comfortable. I was there to get my hair cut. Which is why Mom was evidently unphased by worn-out trimmers or dull trimmer blades. Don't fool yourself - those blades on your electric trimmers do eventually become dull. But what my mom learned is that even if they no longer cut every strand of hair, they will grab every strand. And that's just as useful. Just give the trimmers a good yank, and out comes the hair, possibly accompanied by follicle or bits of skin. Mission accomplished.

I would just like to clarify at this point that despite her short-comings as a cutter of hair, my mom was and is a great mother and I wouldn't trade her for the world. Still, once I was old enough to drive and had my own car, and could thus take myself to a barbershop, I resolved never again to let her near my head with anything sharp. However, it is not enough to simply drive oneself to a barber. No, the main challenge is to find a good barber, which I would discover is only slightly harder than finding a cotton ball during a blizzard.

After a couple of tries, I found a local barber that seemed to understand what is meant by the phrase, "Don't make it too short." He himself was completely bald. Even at sixteen years of age, I appreciated the irony in that. I was pretty happy, too, having successfully evaded Mom and her clippers. 

But the situation would be short-lived. One day Dad came back from getting his own hair cut at the same barber (it seems I had started a rebellion of sorts), and said to me, "I don't want you going to that barber no more."

"But why, Dad?"

"Cause he's a Nazi synthesizer."

"You mean a Nazi sympathizer?"

"Yeah, a Nazi synthesizer."

Don't get the wrong idea. Dad was a smart guy. But we lived in Southern Illinois, and we Southern Illinoisians speak our own language, which is only barely recognizable to the rest of youns.

Getting back to the barber story - I had never heard this barber speak about his political beliefs. But Dad had spoken, and now I had to find another barber. And trying to find a good barber is a lot like dating - you're going to have a few painful experiences until you find the right person, which I did.

I remember when Dad found out I was spending the outrageous price of $12.00 to get my haircut. He acted like I was throwing all my money away on alcohol and lottery tickets. "$12.00?! I just pay my barber $4.00!"

"I don't mean any disrespect, Dad, but it looks like a $4.00 haircut, too."

The truth was, I had been to the $4.00 guy. He was over 90 years old and his hands shook more than Jell-O on a freight train, which of course is a desirable attribute for anyone holding sharp instruments near your head. I didn't think the risk to my life was worth the $8.00 I would save. But I was kind of irresponsible that way.

Eventually, life brought me to Miami Beach, Florida, and so my search for a decent barber began anew. Being possibly the only straight white Gentile living on Miami Beach, I wondered if there was anyone there who even knew how to cut my hair. But a few uneven side-burns and choppy haircuts later, I found Jose. Jose barely spoke any English, and I spoke even less Spanish. Yet he always seemed to know what my head should look like after it was cut. That was a golden time during my haircut odyssey.

But then, I moved to Orlando. There are hundreds of barbershops and hair salons in the greater Orlando area, and apparently they are all staffed by people who have graduated from cosmotology school the day before you come into the shop. And none of them seem to understand when I tell them I don't want a "comb-over". (By "comb-over", I mean what some balding guys do when they grow their hair on one side extremely long so that they can comb it over the bald area. I never understood why those guys do that. Do they think people are going to look at them and think, "Obviously that man has a thick head of hair. Why does he feel the need to part it below his ear?") And yet, I invariably leave the shop with the very haircut I asked not to have, having been denied my right to go bald with dignity. So for the last three years I have been in search of a decent barber, only to receive a satisfactory haircut once.

It was a really good haircut, too. It was done by this young man named Kelvin. He gave me the haircuts to end all haircuts. It gave my hair just the right shape while lending more body to the thinning (thinning as in Anorexic) hair on top of my head. And it was short, which amazed me. I was so happy. After looking for so long, I had found my barber. About a month later, I returned to that shop to get my next haircut, only to find that it was out-of-business. This, of course, led me to the only logical conclusion - God doesn't want me to have a good haircut.

In spite of that, I didn't give up hope. I remembered what Kelvin told me about the haircut he gave me. "It's called a 'Blow Out'. Tell any barber you want a 'Blow Out'. He'll know what you mean."

That's exactly what I told my next barber, whom we'll call "Dave". Dave looked at me like I had just stepped off the short bus. "There's no such kind of haircut," he said, "Do you remember what size trimmer blades he used?"

I did remember. "He used a '1'," I said confidently.

"He didn't use a '1'. That would cut too short. Nevermind, I know what you want. I will read your mind and give you the haircut you want."

I don't know whose mind Dave was reading, but it wasn't mine. I ended up having to "touch up" his handy-work once I got back home.

Finally, that brings me to my most recent haircut, which I described at the outset. I tried explaining to this girl what I wanted based on the job Kelvin had done. I knew he started short at the bottom, gradually leaving it a little longer towards the top.

She cut once and asked, "How's that look?"

I put my eye-glasses back on. My eyes hadn't quite adjusted, but I could tell my hair wasn't quite as short as Kelvin cut it. "Let's go a little shorter."

She cut again, "How about now?"

Out came the glasses. "No, a little shorter."

Finally, after a couple more times of this, she finished and I got a chance to let my eyes adjust to my glasses while I stood close to the mirror.

"How's it look?"

"Crap. You did exactly what I asked."

Like I said, God doesn't want me to have a good haircut. And if you happen to know Kelvin, have him shoot me an email.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Monday, May 08, 2006

New Wookiee in the Family

I called my mother the other day. "Are you ready to be a grandmother?" I asked her.

I heard a loud gasp on the other end. "You've got to be kidding."

"We just got a dog," I said.

"I could slap you!"

Oh, the fun of raising your mother's hopes then dashing them to pieces! That's just one of the many benefits of getting a dog. I'm sure there are other perks. Hopefully I'll experience them soon.

My wife has been wanting a dog for some time, but I've been telling her we couldn't afford the pet deposit and extra rent we would have to pay. What she didn't know was that I had been saving up to pay those fees. She's not in the best of health and is stuck at home by herself most of the time. I figured a little dog would make a good companion for her. So, I decided to surprise her a couple of weeks ago on our wedding anniversary.

At first, I thought I'd pretend to be noble and rescue a dog from an animal shelter. But I did some research on the Internet and found out that the local Humane Society requires potential "rescuers" to submit an application, which can take up to five days to be approved. That wouldn't be so bad, but they also require you to agree to a home visit. I figured it might be a little difficult to maintain the surprise with these people coming to my home. "Nevermind these people, Honey. Folks from the Humane Society make random visits to people's homes all the time. It doesn't mean anything. Just answer their questions and eventually they'll go away."

Besides that, I have to admit I find it just a little insulting that the Humane Society feels the need to evaluate my home to see if it is a suitable alternative to oh, say, death.

So I looked up a number of other "shelters" on the Internet. They all wanted exorbitant fees for "adopting" one of their dogs. I can see donating maybe $100 towards shots and fixing. But, I'm sorry, if you're charging me $250 for a dog, you're not a shelter, you're a kennel. Besides, these dogs are "used" models anyway!

I switched my online search from shelters to online classified ads. This wasn't working out either. I went to Didn't work out. I ran all kinds of queries on Google, Yahoo, Ask, and MSN. The results just linked to shelters I had already visited online. So, out of desperation, I fell back on a last resort. I asked someone. I turned to the co-workers who share my office and said, "Hey, you guys know anyone who is getting rid of a dog?"

"Yeah, you should ask Brigett. She works at an Animal Hospital on the weekends. She's always trying to find homes for animals."

Dang. This goes directly against my theory that the Internet will replace all Human interaction by 2008. Hopefully, this is just a fluke.

It turns out Brigett did indeed know of two puppies at the hospital that were being given away. They were half-Australian Shepherd and half-Jack Russell Terrier. Needless to say, they were a little odd-looking.

When I went to check them out, the vet who had bred them told me, "These dogs are a designer breed. Those are $1500 dogs, right there."

Yeah, I thought, that's why you're giving them away for free. I think it takes more than some crazy old guy declaring his puppies a new breed to value them at $1500. Of course, I'm not an expert.

I chose a puppy and the surprise went well (in case you were wondering). Since the paltry revenue I received from Master Yoda's Blog, including Adsense, Chitika, and the T-shirt store (by the way, thanks to everyone who bought something from there), made it possible to pay the pet deposit and get the dog, we decided a Star Wars name would be appropriate, so my wife named him Chewie.

What I didn't realize was the amount of work that goes into taking care of a dog that is kept inside the home. I knew there would be a lot of work, but I didn't know how much. I was raised in the country, so all of the dogs I had growing up were outside dogs. You don't have to do much for outside dogs when you're living in the country. Set out a food bowl for them and let them go. If you forget to feed them, they can always forage. No, but seriously, just make sure they have their shots and feed and water them every day, and they're fine. They might wander off into the surrounding woods or corn fields for a few hours, but they almost always come back. They don't even do most of their pooping in your yard. And they're happy and healthy.

Inside dogs are a different story, especially if the dog is a young puppy who isn't housebroken yet. Did you know that dogs don't even develop the muscle that enables them to "hold it" until they're 12 weeks old? We've been walking this dog every two hours just to make sure he doesn't mess in the apartment. Dangling him over the balcony was working just fine until one of our cranky neighbors downstairs complained. (Like it's my fault they don't have an umbrella over their patio).

Apparently, dogs eat everything that isn't chained down. Yesterday, while walking Chewie I actually stuck my fingers inside his mouth five different times to pull out some foreign (usually plastic) object. Sometimes, I'll pull something out of his mouth and don't even know what it is. I don't think I want to know either.

I read in a book at PetsMart (I'm too cheap to actually buy a book. But I've read several complete books while shopping at many fine retailers.), that you can train a dog not to eat odd things off the ground and to abstain from other undesirable behaviors by squirting him with a water pistol. So I've been thinking about getting one of those big Super Soakers.


"No. Bad dog."

That'll teach him not to jump up on people.

Then there's the embarrassment of trying to train him to do his business on command. I can't tell you how dignified I feel repeating the mantra, "Go potty! Go potty, Chewie!", while he's piddling on the lawn. What's worse, he's already picked up parasites, which showed up in his poo one day. So, ever since then, especially while we were medicating him, I've been closely examining his poop to see if it contains any worms. This is what I've been reduced to - standing in the yard looking at dog squeezins.

And don't even get me started on the cost of heartworm medication, which apparently all dogs in Florida should take regularly. Why the heck is it only available by perscription? It's for dogs! Are they afraid my dog is going to become a junkie, strung out on heartworm medicine? I mean, I'm certainly not going to take it. What are they afraid of?

And did I mention that I found out I may be allergic to dogs?

Another thing I learned is that dogs are apparently insane. When he first came to our home, Chewie was convinced that the reflection he saw in the glass oven door was another dog - one that needed to be barked at every five minutes. He's also decided that the Persian rug in the living room is his mortal enemy. There have been many life-and-death battles between Chewie and that rug in the past few days. The rug usually wins. This is probably because Chewie's usual strategy is to get under the rug, roll on his back, and attack the rug from underneath. And then there was the other day when I was laying on my back on the living room floor. Chewie came up, laid down beside me on his back, leaned his head over, and started licking my bald spot.

But, I love my dog. I mean, how can you not love someone who is so excited to see you come home he can hardly keep from peeing? Sure, my wife is usually happy to see me come home at night. But let me assure you, she is quite in control of her bodily functions as I walk through the door. It's just not the same. My point is, in spite of all the work and expense, my new little buddy is a lot of fun to have around, and I'm glad he's a part of my family now.

Monday, May 08, 2006   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Master Yoda's Blog Going on Indefinite Hiatus

After much consideration, soul-searching, and calling in to at least a dozen radio talk shows for advice (which is the best place to get advice), I've decided to end Master Yoda's Blog with the April 20th post, the one year anniversary for that blog.

It may or may not be the permanent end of the blog. It may just be the start of a long sabbattical. I may come back to it later. Or maybe not. If there's one thing about me, it's that I am committed to being indecisive, unless I later decide to be decisive.

There are several reasons I have come to this decision. I won't list them all here. I will tell you that much like the daughters in those disturbing feminine hygiene commercials, Master Yoda's Blog has long had that "not so fresh feeling". That's not to say I've been running out of ideas recently. I "ran out of ideas" around post 75. I can keep writing about how Obi-wan's a Cheeto-obsessed redneck, and how Windu is a neurotic girlie-man. But's it's gotten a little stale. I'd like to think when Master Yoda's Blog started, I was doing some things with it you didn't see other bloggers doing. But now it's gotten pretty formulaic. So I think this is a good place to stop.

What have I got planned for the last few days of the blog? Not much. Look for Yoda to have at least one "flash forward" where he will meet the other Young Skywalker. And I plan a special gift for all of my readers on the April 20th post. Hopefully, that will come to fruition. What I have planned will take a lot of work, so I'm not making any promises.

In any event, I won't be leaving the Blogospere entirely. I hope to post more regularly on Bill Johnson's Blog, maybe post another story on Bill Johnson's Fiction. I'm also working on this project. If I go through with it, it will probably start in September when the new TV season starts. It will be a place for episode re-caps, reviews, and celebrity news. I hope you'll stop by.

In the mean time, if you feel you'll be missing your daily Star Wars fix, please check out the blogs listed in the left side-bar of Master Yoda's Blog. There's some real goodies in there. Also, you might want to check out, if you haven't already, Captain Picard's Blog (that author's take on the Enterprise crew is as nutty as my take on Yoda and the rest of the Jedi) and Professor Xavier's Blog (he mixes some great action-packed narrative prose with wickedly subtle dry humor).

I anticipate there may be questions, so let me answer a few of them here:

Q: Since you're quitting Master Yoda's Blog, would you mind if I started my own Yoda blog?
A: It's a free country Blogosphere. Yoda belongs to Mr. Lucas anyway, and I didn't ask his permission before I started my blog.

Q: Can I take over Master Yoda's Blog?
A: No, Hades no.

Q: Boxers or briefs?
A: Boxer-briefs, the best of both worlds, baby! (...and the perfect choice for the indecisive man).

If you've ever had any questions about Master Yoda's Blog, feel free to post them in the comments to this post. I'll be happy to answer them.

Anyway, I want to say a big "Thank You!" to all of you who regularly read Master Yoda's Blog, especially those of you who read it every day. It is really rewarding to have done something that others enjoyed. I thank all of you for your comments and support along the way.

***Note: My last post will be the one dated April 20th, but as you may have noticed, my posts lately have been dated a day behind the actual date. So the last post will actually appear on the 21st in the Western Hemisphere. For those of you on the other side of the world, it may actually be the 22nd. I guess. I always get confused when it comes to time zones around the world. Maybe you've already seen it. What did I write? Was it any good?

Sunday, April 16, 2006   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Friday, December 09, 2005

Star Wars Episode III - The Rewrite (Part 1)

So you kind of liked Episode III, but think it could've been better? What, do you think you could do a better job than George Lucas? Well, so do I! I'll be writing my version of the movie a little bit at a time and presenting it here. Let's see how it turns out.

The following is part of a serialized, re-written version of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, presented in narrative prose.

Her face. So much pain was visible in the wrinkles, the creases, the scars caused by the horrors the Tuskens must've inflicted on her - horrors he could've stopped if he had been there. As he untied her from the post and cradled her in his arms, he searched her eyes for some form of accusation, some look that said, why weren't you there, Anakin? Why didn't you save me? But her eyes didn't accuse him. They should have. He could see only peace in her eyes as she managed a feeble smile at the sight of her only son. And that only made him feel guiltier about not being there to protect her - protect her from this. "Ani?" she spoke softly as he cradled her limp body in his arms, "It's you!"

How could you be happy to see me? he wondered. There she was, near-death, in that Tusken tent, tied to that post like some animal, looking at the only person who could've saved her, but had abandoned her long ago to join the Jedi. Why don't you hate me? But her face revealed no hate, not for him, not even for the Tusken animals that had done this to her. All he could see in her face was her love for him. But it was that love that accused him, by not accusing him, blamed him by not blaming him. Her face.

"Anakin!" Obi-wan's voice crackled loudly over the comm, bringing him back to the present, "Incoming! On your right! Move! NOW!"

He looked out the window of his cockpit to see the missle headed straight for him and coming fast. R2 screamed as Anakin quickly rotated his craft 90 degrees, managing to miss the projectile by a hair's width. As the missle rocketed past his cockpit window, he mused that if it had been going slower, he probably could've read the small identification number etched on the bottom of its shell.

"Anakin!" Obi-wan yelled, "You have to stay focused! Keep your thoughts on the mission! You could've been killed!"

"I had it under control, Master," he responded, hoping to avoid another lecture. He wasn't in the mood. And besides, he didn't feel like he had anything to prove to Obi-wan. How many times had he saved the old man's life? Anakin was more powerful and more skilled than Obi-wan would ever be, and had been for some time. He didn't see any further need of Obi-wan's "guidance" or endless scolding. It seemed to Anakin that he should be lecturing Obi-wan.

But there would be no time for lectures or scolding. As they approached the battle over Coruscant, fighters on both sides whizzed past them, firing mercilessly at each other. It was a free-for-all, a frantic swarm of ships of every size attacking each other from all sides. There was no order, no direction, just chaos. On the one side, souless droids unafraid of dying and concerned only with their mission to kill. On the other side, Republic pilots fighting desperately to save the planet below, because it was their home, or because their families lived there, or because they knew if Coruscant fell, so would the Republic and their entire way of life.

"The Invisible Hand, up ahead." Obi-wan announced.

"I see it." General Grevious' ship loomed off in the distance, gradually coming into view.
Anakin increased his speed, careening around in front of Obi-wan. Flying effortlessly inbetween zooming fighters and streams of plasma fire, he started to speed up even more.

"Easy, Anakin! This isn't a race! You're supposed to be taking my flank."

"I was afraid that if we kept at your speed, Master, the war might be over before we get there." Anakin decreased his speed slightly, not quite enough to give up his position in front of Obi-wan.

Eventually, but not soon enough for Anakin, they reached the hangar entrance of the Invisible Hand.

"Let's touch down near the entrance," Obi-wan directed, "We don't know exactly what we'll be up against once we enter the hangar."

Instead of complying, Anakin raced his fighter straight into the heart of the hangar, firing his cannons the whole way. In the end, at least 30 droid soldiers lay in pieces on the hangar floor. Anakin touched his fighter down in the middle of it all.

Obi-wan leaped out of his own fighter with his lightsaber drawn, deflecting blaster fire from the few remaining droids while at the same time cursing Anakin's recklessness. "I told you to touch down near the entrance! You have got to learn to follow orders and be more careful!" he yelled after the last droid had been destroyed.

"Were you being careful, Master? I thought you were being timid."

Obi-wan grabbed the young knight's arm. "Stop trying to compete with me."

Anakin jerked his arm free and sneared, "Master, I stopped trying to compete with you years ago - when you stopped being competition."

To be continued...

Friday, December 09, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Monday, July 04, 2005

Why Nerds Love Science Fiction

As someone who once read most of an article on the Internet about psychology, I feel I am qualified to write with some authority on the underlying emotional motivations and mental inner-workings of other people, in this case nerds. Also, being a card-carrying nerd myself qualifies me to speak for nerds everywhere, since logically they all must think the same as I do.

Specifically, I'd like to address a question that everyone has had at one point, but evidently has been afraid to ask. Or maybe they don't care. Either way, I'm still going to write about it: why do nerds like science fiction so much?

Nerds Love Things That No One Else Understands
Do you know what Linux is? How would you install it? What's the difference between a quasar and a nebula? How would you mod a Playstation? What the heck is "modding" anyway?

If you don't know the answer to these questions (most likely some of you do), you belong to the vast majority. The thing is, nerds know you don't know the answers, and this gives them great satisfaction. Secretly, it makes us feel superior to you. Most nerds would never admit to this, so if you talk to one who disagrees with me, they are obviously in denial. (This is actually true of anyone who disagrees with anything I say. I know. Strange.)

This is one of the reasons nerds love science fiction. What's the maximum warp speed possible for a starship or any other space vehicle? What's the difference between a TIE fighter and an X-Wing? What's Klingon for "Have a nice day"? What, you don't know? Ha! Even now, I can imagine my fellow nerds demonstrating their mental superiority by posting answers to these questions in the comments.

A Nerd's Brain Is Hard-Wired For Obsession
I have no empirical evidence to support this statement. But this is the Internet, so I don't need any. However, this is the only explanation for why "gamers" spend so many hours in their bedrooms at their computers trying to beat Halo 3 that their complexions start to resemble that of a juiced carrot. Or why someone would go through the trouble to build a stormtrooper's costume to wear as they wait in line for a movie that will not open for another month. Or why someone would write a blog posing as a fictional tiny green Jedi master.

I visited a Star Wars message board the other day and noticed a rather emotional debate about whether Yoda had contributed more to the Jedi Order than Mace Windu. It went like this:

"Obviously, you haven't read Star Wars: Shatterpoint. If you had, you would know how Mace created the Form VII discipline of combat..."

"But everyone knows the books aren't canon..."

At the end of this extremely long thread that went on for 16 pages, I don't think "WinduTheMan_1992" and "clone_trooper_at852" were friends anymore. If they weren't separated by cyberspace, I think this argument would've ended in a fist fight. You just can't find this kind of obsession among the non-nerd population.

Look Who the Heroes In Science Fiction Are
This is the biggest reason why nerds love science fiction. Can you possibly find bigger nerds than Mr. Spock or Commander Data? Why, in Star Trek: The Next Generation a nerd gets to be captain! And don't get me started on the dorkiness of Luke Skywalker. These are all extremely popular characters, yet one can imagine most of them being beat up in school for their lunch money.

Consider the cast of any Star Trek show. Who makes up the bridge crew? Don't they look like your high school's computer club? Of course, they do. Who else would have the skill required to work all of that sophisticated technology but the guys in the IT department at your company?

In conclusion, science fiction serves an important purpose in society today. It keeps us nerds too busy to put our considerable brain power to some practical application, which would no doubt result in our conquest of the entire planet. You non-nerds should be grateful.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Movie Review : Batman Begins... Again

Why write a review for this movie so soon, you ask? After all, it's only been out for a week and a half. First of all, I don't appreciate your sarcasm. Secondly, if you would like to send me a check for my time, I would be happy to write movie reviews for you on a more timely basis. So, now that we're done with the interruptions, on with the following review of Batman Begins or, as I like to call it, Batman Do-Over.

This Batman movie is a do-over in the truest sense of the word. Now that this film has been released, we can pretend that all of that nippled-costume foolishness that began in 1989 never happened at all. It provides more reason than ever just to slap Joel Schumaker repeatedly. As someone who appreciates all that is good and decent, I don't believe that I've ever been able to sit through an entire Batman movie directed by either Tim Burton or Joel Schumaker, especially Schumaker. Those live-action cartoons were by accident what the 60's TV show was on purpose - stupidly silly. Stupid silliness (or is it silly stupidity?) in a movie or television show only works when it is intentional, because the audience is in on the joke. As a result, the Batman TV show was funny, as it was meant to be. The Schumaker movies, on the other hand, were just sad.

Batman Begins breathes new life into the Caped Crusader by giving him back some of his dignity. It does this because it is really the story of the man, not the costume. Just as the recent Spider-Man movies were really about Peter Parker, Batman Begins is truly about Bruce Wayne. In fact, we don't even see the costume until half-way through the movie. And to be honest, I was enjoying the movie without it. Director Chris Nolan does a great job of exploring the inner mental workings of the billionaire bad guy buster. Nolan does such a good job, in fact, that by the time Bruce puts on the cape and cowl, the audience will understand exactly why he does it, and why he makes every other decision in his path to becoming Gotham's dark avenger.

Nolan stays pretty true to the origin and essence of the Batman character in the comic books, with only a few liberties taken on the back story. For the most part, these liberties are minor and only serve to enhance the overall story. Speaking of Batman's origins, why does someone have to get his parents killed before he becomes a superhero? Think about it - Superman's birth parents were killed on Krypton. Batman saw his parents gunned down by a thief. And it wasn't good enough for Spider-Man to lose good old Mom and Dad, but his uncle had to get tragically killed as well! Why? Is the Justice League an orphan's only club or something? Maybe it would be too hard for someone to stand up for truth and justice if he's been oppressed his whole life by the love and nurturing care of his biological parents.

On the other hand, I can see where having one's parents around would be distracting to a superhero. "Are you still flying around in those tights and fighting crime? When are you going to get a real job? How am I ever going to have grandchildren if you're out playing dress-up every night? Haven't you become leader of the Avengers yet?"

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Batman Begins. One of the truly enjoyable aspects of this movie was Christian Bale. His performance demonstrated his considerable understanding of the Batman character. He doesn't show a lot of range in this movie, but he doesn't need it. There is mostly anger and guilt that drives Bruce Wayne, and the audiences will see those emotions ever present, yet simmering just under the surface in Bale. This comprehension of Bruce Wayne distinguishes Bale's performance from that of George Clooney, who evidently thought that Batman was Dr. Ross in a cape.

But it's not just his performance that distinguishes Bale as a great choice of casting for this role. Physically, he's believable as Batman. For one thing, at 6' 2", he's the right height. He did seem a little short in some of the scenes, but that can be blamed on his freakishly tall cast-mates (Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes?). At least he's taller than Michael Keaton. There can be no better proof that Tim Burton smokes crack, than his choice of Keaton for this role. Batman should at least be taller than Kim Basinger, or at least look like he could beat her up in a fair fight. I mean, come on! Yet, Burton was once quoted as saying, "I just couldn't imagine anyone else in the Batman costume besides Michael." And I thought weed was supposed to enhance a person's imagination.

But besides his height, Chritian Bale has one killer physique in this movie. I say that with all the admiration a heterosexual man can possibly have for another. Apparently, it never occurred to anyone involved with the previous movies that Batman should have muscles. Yet, this is important. Even though it seems superficial, Bale's appearance is one of the things that makes this movie superior to the others. Though Keaton and Kilmer both seemed to understand Batman, they didn't look like him, so they were hard to believe in the role.

The one draw-back to this movie was Katie Holmes. Though she does a good job of carrying herself with all the confidence and dignity of a tough assistant D.A., that doesn't change the fact that she looks seventeen. No amount of acting can change that. But then again, she's too young for the role of girlfriend to a middle-aged actor, yet she seems to pull that one off. Even so, her youthful appearance doesn't detract too much from the movie.

The best part about this movie is the story-telling. The plot is incredibly rich with detail. Yet it somehow avoids becoming convoluted. The film runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it seemed much longer to me, not because it seemed to drag on, but because there was just so much story. It is this story-telling that makes this a Batman for grown-ups.

The film doesn't even rely on brutal violence or fancy fight-scenes (this might be a disappointment to those of you wanting to see that). Yes, there are fights, but they are scarce and rarely show any blood. The only reason I could see for the PG-13 rating was the downright scariness of some of the scenes. The ability to be scary and disturbing without also being excessively violent or gory is a testament to Christopher Nolan's directorial skills.

I've already mentioned how well Bruce Wayne's character is developed in the film, but there are so many other colorful characters and events as well. These characters manage to be interesting without a bunch of silly make-up, crazy clothes, or the shamelessly over-the-top performances given by the actors who played villians in the other Batman movies. There is so much big name talent in this movie, yet no one hams it up once.

I know it might be hard to tell, but I kinda liked this movie. I just hope somebody forces Joel Schumaker to sit and watch it with his eyes taped open. It would also help if that person kept yelling, "Look! This is how you're supposed to make a movie!" Hopefully, they'll make at least a couple of sequels. It will take that many to scrub the images of rubber cod pieces out of my head.

Using a new simplified rating system which I came up with myself, I give this movie a 21.23 stars out of a possible 23.

Friday, June 24, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

How Stupid People Are Ruining It for the Rest of Us

Have you ever realized how much stupid people are ruining things for the rest of us? Just the other day, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, trying to get out with what few items I had. After a few minutes, I was relieved to see that the cart of the lady in front of me had been emptied and the last item had been scanned. Great! I thought, It's almost my turn! But unfortunately, the lady was a little short on cash. By "a little short", I mean she had brought $20 to spend at the store, but put $80 worth of groceries in her cart!

How did she handle it? Taking out a pack of chewing gum, she handed it to the cashier and said, "How much is it without this?". $79.50. Only $59.50 to go! Next, a tube of toothpaste, then another small ticket item, all chosen one by one after the lady had carefully sifted through everything to find that next item she could bear to part with. The really annoying thing was that she kept asking the same question after every little item, "How much is it without this?"

I wanted to scream at her, "Did you happen to notice the prices posted on the shelves?!"

Look, I know we've all been a little short at the register. At least, I have. Sometimes, I may have miscalculated by a dollar or two the final cost of everything while keeping a running total in my head. But I've never overshot my budget by $60! I mean, come on! That can only be achieved by completely giving up on the concept of Mathematics. "Screw it, I'm just going to throw a bunch of stuff in my cart and let the cashier figure it out."

If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn't attach much significance to it. But it's happened to me more than once. And every time it happens, I feel it just serves to prove my theory - Stupid people are conspiring to ruin my life.

I'll give you another example of how the intelligence-challenged among us are messing things up for everyone else: online auctions. I remember back, shortly after Al Gore invented the Internet, when online auction sites such as eBay were great places to find slightly used or surplus merchandise at bargain prices. But then, the stupid people found out about it. Now, it's mostly a place for suckers. Let me ask you, if an auction ends Thursday at 5:00pm, when is the best time to place your first bid? That would be 4:55 or as close as you can get before the auction ends, right? If you place a bid any time before then, you are just going to drive the price higher, which is exactly what happens to most popular items there now. A few years ago, I was shopping around on eBay for my first PDA. I found the exact kind I was looking for, too. Unfortunately, it had a cracked screen and some other damage. Yet, the high bid was already more than what you'd pay for a new one in the store! Even worse, there were still a couple of days left in the auction!

Reasonably intelligent people understand the concept of bidding late, but not stupid people. In fact, they often complain about others who place their first bids in the last few minutes! That's cheating! Yes, how dishonest of me to use such unfair advantages as common sense and logic to determine when to place my bid.

Another example is traffic jams, which are almost always caused by stupid people, especially when it's the result of an accident on the freeway. How do accidents happen on the freeway in the first place? I mean, if you want to avoid an accident there, all you have to do is follow two simple rules: 1) Don't hit the person in front of you. 2) If you want to switch to another lane, make sure no one is there already. That's it! Easy enough, isn't it? Not for stupid people!

But it's not just the people involved in the accident who are guilty. No, it's also all the stupid people who have to slow down to look at the accident, as if they've never seen one before. Sure, if you're in the lane next to the accident, by all means, slow down to avoid hitting anyone on the scene. But, please, someone explain to me why drivers three lanes over, on the other side of the road, have to slow down!

I remember one Thanksgiving weekend when I was trying to get back home from Memphis. At some point outside of Atlanta, traffic on the interstate slowed to a crawl. Traffic was backed up for miles and miles. It took us two hours to get to the end of it. The cause? A couple of cars had pulled over into the middle of the median between the north- and south-bound lanes. They hadn't wrecked. They weren't in anyone's way. They were just sitting there. But all the stupid people on the road that day had to slow down and look anyway, causing the rest of us major headaches.

Don't get me wrong. I don't really have anything against stupid people. Some of my closest friends are complete idiots (of course, if you're reading this and you happen to be my friend, you know I'm not talking about you). Besides, stupid people serve an important purpose in society. In fact, if not for the presence of stupid people, there are so many wonderful things the world would not have today, such as multi-level marketing and Jerry Bruckheimer movies. And what of all those poor professional wrestlers who would be without jobs and a means to support their families because there was no one to watch them on TV?

No, we need stupid people. I just wish they would leave me alone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Monday, May 23, 2005

Core Values

Recently, management decided we needed to re-write our company's core values completely. The process was a grueling one - starting with choosing a "Vision Committee" to work on writing the core values, followed by gathering input from several focus groups. In order to choose who would sit on the focus groups, employees' names were run through a computer, which would then pick names in a completely random fashion, in order to make it "fair". (My name wasn't picked to be on one of these focus groups, so I thought this arrangement was extremely fair.) The final result was a list of core values put together by the Vision Committee and presented to upper management, who probably threw out the committee's list in favor of core values they preferred.

All throughout the process, all employees were encouraged to add their input. Wanting to do my part, and to show my respect for the seriousness management was according to this project, I submitted to the Vision Committee the following list of Core Values which I thought would be beneficial for my company. To my surprise, none of my suggestions were used.


Seeing as you are now on the Vision Committee, I thought I would pass along my suggestions for what our new core values should be.

Core Values

Things aren't so bad when you don't give a rat's behind anyway.

How can you tell what won't take care of itself, unless you give it a chance?

All the benefits of actual sincerity, but without the effort.

No one can hold you accountable for not meeting your objectives when they weren't sure what your objectives were in the first place.

You can have great morale when you don't know how bad things truly are.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained - nothing lost either, so what's the big deal?

If you can't be successful, at least fool yourself into thinking you are.

Note to anyone in authority who may read this email: The above parody does not represent Bill Johnson's true appraisal of [Company's Name], its management team, parent companies, clients, policies, or practices. So please don't fire him.

Monday, May 23, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

I happened to be walking by a movie theater last night when I noticed something odd. Apparently, they've made another Star Wars movie. I was surprised. You would think they would do something to let people know this movie was coming out, like put out some advertising, make a few toys, something. You would also think that someone would mention this on the Internet.

So, in order to help out Mr. Lucas, who evidently can't afford to promote his movie, and to do my part to spread the word, I submit for your approval the following review. I promise not to include any spoilers. No spoilers at all. None. Ok, maybe one: Apparently, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, and Luke and Leia are brother and sister! I know, shocking, isn't it?

But seriously, on with the review. Some would say this movie has quite a bit to live down to, considering the two toy commercials, otherwise known as Episodes I and II, that preceded it. On the other hand, preliminary buzz has been really good, so I think expectations have been pretty high for this installment. I know my expectations were high. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

There are some things in this movie that everyone knows has to happen. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. The Jedi are slaughtered. Yoda and Obi-Wan go into hiding. The twins, Luke and Leia are born and Luke ends up on Tatooine, to grow up on his Uncle Owen's farm. (By the way, what the heck kind of crops does Uncle Owen grow on that farm? I mean it's in the middle of a desert, for Pete's sake! "We should have a pretty good crop of sand this year. As long as it never rains, we should be alright.") All of this does happen and much more.

The Good Stuff

My favorite part: Obi-Wan Kenobi. As apparently the only actor allowed to show emotion in the prequels, Ewan McGregor delivers. Unlike the other characters, Obi-Wan Kenobi's character has really evolved over the last three movies, from wide-eyed youth to a mature and confident leader. We feel his anguish over Anakin's descent to the Dark Side. We see the conflict within him when he knows he has to deal with his former apprentice. Too bad the movie isn't really even about him. It's no wonder he is the favorite prequel character of many fans, not counting little green muppets.
He has also become one bad mammer-jammer of a Jedi. There's one scene where he fights General Grievous, the four-armed alien in a giant droid's body. This baddie can wield four lightsabers at once. In Clone Wars, which played on the Cartoon Network (yes, I know, I watch cartoons. Get over it.), Grievous defeated three Jedi Masters in one fight, defeating two of them at the same time. But Obi-Wan takes Grievous on by himself. In deed, Master Kenobi is down-right cocky throughout most of the movie. Even when he's out-gunned, out-numbered, or out-classed, he has a little smirk that says, "Bring it!"

The story. The plot moves quickly and keeps you interested for the entire two and a half hours. Different parts of the story are woven together brilliantly. Even without the back-story of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith would still be a great movie on its own.
This movie answers all the questions you've ever had about the original trilogy, and probably some you didn't. Not only questions like 'how did Anakin turn to the Dark Side?' are answered, but also, 'how did Palpatine get so deformed?', and 'why didn't C3PO remember Uncle Owen in Episode 4?'. You have to listen carefully for the answer to the last one, but the one about Palpatine is answered pretty dramatically, as are most of the questions this movie is supposed to resolve. This prequel ties everything together in a highly satisfying way. In fact, this is the one prequel that is worthy of the original movies.

The fight scenes. The fights are really well choreographed, and as a result, incredibly entertaining. Everybody gets to throw down. Anakin, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Palpatine, and yes, Yoda get some major action due to the abundant fight scenes.
The most powerful fight scene is the climactic duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin. It makes Darth Vader's and Obi-Wan's pathetic little dance in the original Star Wars movie look even more pathetic by comparison. It is very exciting and a fitting beginning for Darth Vader.

The special effects. The special effects in this installment make the original trilogy look like a bunch of amateur fan films. Especially impressive is the opening space battle scene above Coruscant.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

Hayden Christensen. At first, I thought that the Anakin Skywalker character was computer generated, like Yoda and Jar Jar. But then I realized that the CG characters were much more life-like. Chrisensen's constant impression of a wooden post kept taking me out of the movie. Some of the lines that were given him were actually pretty good. Too bad they were wasted on this actor. We hear the words come out of his mouth that express his inner conflict and ultimate descent to the Dark Side. But we don't feel that conflict, because Christensen doesn't show any emotion to accompany those words. The most powerful scene he has is right after he's been fitted with the Darth Vader suit and asks the emporer about the welfare of Padme. It was quite moving. I guess that means that Hayden does his best acting when there's a mask covering his face, and James Earl Jones is voicing his lines.
Most of the other acting in this movie was sub-par as well. However, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) ,during one scene, actually got to display an emotion other than "constipated". And Ian McDiarmid, who plays Palpatine, does a good job of playing that creepy guy in the neighborhood who takes a little too much interest in young boys.

Padme turning into a weak little girl. Padme was one strong young woman in the first two prequels. But she spends this film either crying, or asking Anakin to hold her because she's frightened. I'm not saying she should have been given fight scenes. It would've looked pretty weird for a pregnant girl to take on the Sith. But there are plenty of other ways to show strength and independence besides violence. I know plenty of strong women, but I've yet to see any of them to get into a fist fight. (Though that would be kinda cool.)

Can I have a hand? Why does someone have to lose a hand every time there is a lightsaber duel? What is up with that? I won't reveal who loses their hands, but I can tell you I counted no less than eight limbs being cut off in this movie. That just counts the people involved in lightsaber duels. It doesn't include clone troopers or droid soldiers, who lose plenty of their own body parts. One scene that struck me took place after Anakin, at the behest of Palpatine, kills one bad guy who, incidently, had gotten both of his hands cut off. Anakin says in all seriousness, "I shouldn't have killed him. He was an unarmed prisoner." HA! 'Unarmed'! I think I may have been the only one in the theater who got that. The sad thing is, I don't think that line was meant to be funny, which leads me to my next complaint...

The silly dialogue. The silliest lines were given to Padme. An example: "Hold me Anakin, like you did by the river on Naboo so long ago when our love was all there was." Puke. Who talks like that? It's goofy dialogue like that makes me unable to care about either Padme or Anakin.

Still, Revenge of the Sith is a must-see even for the most casual of Star Wars fans. Many fans are saying this movie is even better than Empire Strikes Back. I wouldn't go that far. Because of the acting, I wouldn't even say it is as good as any of the original three movies. But it is still one great movie.

A warning: If you have little children, leave them at home. This film is way too scary for little kids.

Another warning: Don't get the Jumbo Coke at the concession stand before the movie, even though it's only a quarter more than the medium and you get free refills on it. I have a feeling that I would've enjoyed this movie much more if I wasn't fighting off the urge to go half-way through it. Fortunately, I have the bladder control of ten men, but this meant I had to hold it in for over an hour. That wasn't the least bit healthy, but at least I got to see the whole movie!

Using a new simplified rating system which I came up with myself, I give this movie a 20.45 stars out of a possible 23.

Thursday, May 19, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Canine/Kitty Conundrum

There has been a debate dividing America for quite some time. It is so divisive it threatens to split our great society into two parts. That is to say, Cat People and Dog People. As a wholly impartial and rational observer to this social crisis, I feel I am in a good position to offer some clear-headed insight. My neutral position can be summarized by the following simple truth: Dogs are good, Cats are evil.

When I say cats are evil, I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, cheat-at-Monopoly evil. I'm talking about pure, sadistic, spit-on-babies evil. Most people, especially cat owners, don't see the feline species as evil at all. But that is their plan. Their evil plan.

This stark contrast between cats and dogs can be seen in how they view their human caretakers. For example, when you get home at the end of the day, your dog happily greets you at the door, frantically jumping up and down, as if to say, "You're home! You're home! You're home! I'm so happy! I missed you so much! Don't ever go away like that again!"

Your cat, on the other hand will probably not greet you at all. You may see your cat the moment you come through the door, but that is only because bolting through the front door every time it opens is part of the planned Great Escape. Otherwise, she hardly notices your presence at all. "Oh, were you gone? Did you bring food?"

Cats take great pleasure in disrupting any activity you begin. Try sitting down to work at your computer. Your dog may come sit beside you to stare at you with great longing and admiration. "Don't mind me. I'm content to be in your wonderful presence where I can look at you." Your cat? "Going to use the computer? Great! I think I'll take a nap on the keyboard."

Cat lovers may object to this interpetation of feline behavior, citing examples where this sort of thing is cute and even affectionate. For instance, they may point out how a cat loves to rub against your shins as you walk, signaling its love for you with its purring. But don't be fooled. Your cat wants you to trip. Yes, that's right. Your cat wants to kill you. Your little feline buddy is thinking to herself, "If only we could do this at the top of the stairs. That would be cool." Is it hard to accept that these little balls of fur and whiskers are a bunch of cut-throat, wannabe murderers? Even if you cannot accept that Fluffy wants you dead, it is hard to deny that at the very least she doesn't care whether you live or die. After all, she could live off your remains for several weeks, maybe months if she doesn't have to share.

Contrast all of this to how your dog views you. You are the center of his life, the reason for his being. The death of a human owner has occasionally been known literally to throw a dog into considerable depression. To your cat, however, you are only slightly more important than the furniture. And if you're sofa ever starts dispensing food, well, there goes your spot on the totem pole.

Obedience is another advantage dogs have over cats. Even the dumbest dog will learn to come when his name is called. Not a cat. And it's not because your cat is too stupid. No, don't underestimate your cat. It's because your cat doesn't care. Even if she does recognize her name, there is no way she is going to stoop down to the level of taking orders from the likes of you.

After all of this evidence, cat enthusiasts may still try to defend these Satanic creatures by pointing out some lame supposed advantage over dogs - "But cats are clean". That's right. Instead of having a roommate who will love and obey you, as well as worship the ground upon which you walk, choose a cat. It may try to kill you, but hey, it can poop in a box.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Nerds Are Coming

I remember when the designation "nerd" was an insult, a put-down, a slight, a word used by those who did not possess a multi-syllabic vocabulary to mock those who did. The term was used to deride those who had committed the crimes of making the honor roll, knowing the answers to the teacher's questions in class, or actually reading assigned material. TV and movies conspired in this ostracism of the unfortunately bright, portraying nerds as wimps who wore pocket protectors and eyeglasses held together with tape (I never met anyone under the age of 40 who wore a pocket protector).

I remember being called a nerd more than once. I never quite knew how to respond. What did they want me to say? Did they expect me to deny it? Even if I wanted to deny it, the evidence was irrefutable. I couldn't help it if I got every answer on the test and the extra credit questions correct. Really, does a score of 115% mess up the curve by that much? Nor could I hide the fact, as bizarre as it may have seemed, that I thought reading was fun. And yes, I admit, I found gym class about as enjoyable as running around with feral cats in my pants.

I wasn't even sure I wanted to deny my nerdiness. I mean, did I really want to be like those jocks who were attempting to ridicule me with their limited verbal skills? The most joy they got from reading was when they could finish the puzzle on the back of their Captain Crunch box during breakfast. Sure they enjoyed gym class - it was the only class they could pass without getting someone else to do their homework. I'm not condemning wanting to be accepted, or even having the herd mentality. But, if you're going to join a herd, why join the stupid one?

Things are different now. Much like women in our society who now have the right to smoke Virginia Slims, we nerds have come a long way, Baby. It is now no longer a crime to be a nerd. In fact, in some circles, it's cool.

This radical shift in long-held societal norms can be blamed on the advent of the personal computer. When personal computers first came out, not everyone owned one, because only nerds knew how to use them. This was fortunate for most nerds, as it gave them something to do with the time that most people waste on friends and hygiene. However, computers became easier to use. So easy to use in fact, that normal people began to invade this nerd's domain. Soon, almost every household had a PC or Mac. Businesses had embraced this revolution even more quickly, some putting a computer on almost every desk.

But there was a problem. Sure, computers were easier to use now, but what if one wanted to do something on them besides play Solitaire? What if a business wanted to actually connect all of it's computers together? Who would fix them when they broke, or froze up? This development was monumental for nerds everywhere, for now, being a nerd had a wide-spread practical application. Nerds now performed a role in society besides filling Star Trek conventions or being contestants on Jeopardy. Now, nerds were necessary. Indeed, during the dot-com and tech boon of the 90's, being a nerd could be quite profitable.

Nerds are now among the most successful people on the planet. Take Bill Gates, for example. One would be hard-pressed to find a bigger nerd than Mr. Gates, but he now owns approximately half of the planet. He's married to an attractive woman and seems to have a happy and stable family life. Yet, imagine what his life would be like if not for the advent of computers. He would probably come every night from his job at the local Radio Shack to a lonely apartment, with only his collection of Star Wars action figures to keep him company.

I don't know if the current crop of nerdy children are ridiculed the way their predecessors were in my time. But if they are, they can at least take solace in the likelihood that those who are mocking them now will probably be working for them in the future.

Sunday, May 15, 2005   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story