Monday, May 17, 2010

Small Pleasures: Anti-Climactic Copy

Searching online for a fresh, kicky, kid-approved synonym for "awesome" just now, I clicked on an "Iron Man" web ad and landed on, where the following copy gave me a faint smile. 


Stronger, faster and tougher than any version before it, the Mark VI armor perfects the Iron Man weapon system. Loaded with weapons and capable of supersonic speed, it turns Tony Stark into the ultimate high-tech hero. Take on even the toughest bad guys with this awesome warrior. Featuring the advanced and high-tech Mark VI version of his armor, this Repulsor Power Iron Man figure’s lights and sounds show enemies he means business. When you’re ready for the battle to begin, activate his snap-on blaster accessories and launch his projectiles. His glowing chest repulsor accessory shows that even the toughest combat hasn’t fazed him—and he’s ready for the next battle to begin. Figure comes with snap-on blaster and 2 projectile accessories.


Manufacturer's Suggested Age: 4 Years and Up

Care and Cleaning: Wipe Clean With a Dry Cloth

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NY Story: Conversation and Conclusions in the Rain

Hello?  Hello?  Is anyone there? 

Oh, sorry.  It's you.  Do I seem a little jumpy? Yes, I guess I am.  I had a weird encounter just now, in the rain around midnight. Two, actually.  First, I recognized the former head of a major West Coast art institute, a guy I met many times in LA when we both lived there and a good friend of mine worked for him. He and I stood under a scaffold and talked for about 10 minutes on topics ranging from opera (he'd just come from one I'd never heard of) to museums, art critics ("museum groupies"), plants, and of course, our mutual friend.  It was a lively encounter that ended with him asking for my card and, as we went our separate ways, with me thinking about highly motivated people and my own crushing glibness. 

About 15 minutes later, still walking north, I was crossing 78th on the west side of Broadway near the Apthorp. I was chatting with a friend in LA about weighty issues (the usual), when a dark guy in a baggy dark coat strolled out from 78th onto Broadway.  He was about 20 feet ahead.  By day that block is a pleasant tree-lined stretch, but at night, the trees block the streetlights, and a wall of parked cars blocks any view from the street. So when the guy slowed under the second tree and reached into his pocket, I veered out into the street. I didn't make eye contact but crossed Broadway still talking.

My friend, safe at home in LA, told me the current vogue in muggings is to target people talking on cell phones, because they're oblivious to what's around them. Oh really? A block later, just as I reached the much bigger 79th Street, I was dismayed to see the same guy crossing ahead of me, as if to intercept me.  Was I imagining it?  Maybe.  Probably.  But I didn't like how it felt.  So I broke into a trot and crossed 79th away from him, explaining to my friend that I wanted to focus and would call her back. 

Broadway north of 79th was pretty empty -- the rain washes the streets clean, as Travis Bickle would tell you.  So I figured I'd just duck into the subway and take it home after all. I'd already walked more than a mile. If the guy were following me he wouldn't do so in the subway -- would he? Even if he did, I could just hang out by the station clerk's booth till the train came.

So I slipped down the stairs and found myself in a long, well-lit corridor, 40 feet away from the turnstiles.  I walked briskly down the hall, and when it opened up into the station lobby -- there he was. That guy. The station clerk, a small man in full uniform, was standing outside his booth, giving that guy the fisheye. Even so, that guy wasn't heading for the turnstiles: he was hovering, eyes restless. I looked at him. He looked at me. He had a nice face, but he seemed nervous and a little vulpine. Or did I imagine that?  The clerk's eyes darted nervously between us, and I didn't stop moving. I kept walking to the other stairway and then ran up it and back out onto Broadway. I didn’t look back. Why'd I leave? I had no desire to engage him in a staring contest down there with the station clerk as our witness. So now what?

The Dublin House, an average joint with a neon Celtic harp over the door, was nearby on 79th.  I almost never stop for a solo beer in a bar. But this seemed like a good time to dry off and hang out while the guy went away.  I walked in, full of nervous energy, but the crowd was too much, so I just stood in the doorway scanning the wet intersection for that vague silhouette.

He didn't show up again. After a few minutes I headed over to Amsterdam, where bar crowds throng outside to smoke. I called my friend to say I was okay.  I kept looking behind me. Then, walking under a scaffold, I wondered if he might have gone up Broadway and crossed over to Amsterdam on 80th to cut me off.  That corner was coming up. But the street ahead was lively, so I kept going. At 82nd a police van was idling at the light, so I waved to the cop (he was picking his nose), and after he rolled down his window, I related my little tale. He said he'd check it out and took off, lights flashing.

Did I overreact? Maybe. But I have cause. Long ago, in Harlem at twilight, I was chased down Broadway by about 10 teenagers in hoodies chanting "Howard Beach! Howard Beach!"  That night a taxi saved my life (or something). As my friend and I climbed into the cab, the kids stopped coming toward us and started laughing. Visiting again a few years later, it was around 1am when I saw a cluster of teenagers in hoodies approaching me on Eighth Avenue (back before Eighth was the wonderland of boutiques that it is now).  As I headed toward them, two kids stopped way up the block in a doorway. Two more split off to wait a few doors down. One walked out to stand between parked cars. And two kept coming toward me. I saw all that happen and veered out onto the avenue to hail a cab. They also started laughing as I got in and took off.

I walk late at night all the time. I try not to be stupid or paranoid. I try not to assume things based on color or clothes. I keep my eyes open. Was that guy tonight innocently heading for the subway all along? Would he have done nothing more than ask me for change? Did my bizarre reactions offend him? Worse, did the cop end up harassing an innocent, possibly deranged guy with nowhere better to spend a wet night?  I don't know. Am I trying too hard to justify myself? 

I do know that New York continues to provide adventures, and you meet the darnedest people on Broadway.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bad Parenting

(Yeah, apologies to Stanley Kubrick.)

One of my librarian friends (yes, I have several librarian friends, go figure) responded thusly to yesterday's tale of moviegoing ire:
Loved the story about the R film and kids. You just have to let it go and realize that society needs damaged people. What would all the social workers do if they had no one to fix? Libraries would lose 10% of their patrons. 
Gee, I never thought of it that way.  I'll start applying the same logic to car crashes/body shops, matches/firefighters, and guns/gravediggers.

I feel much better now. Thanks, clear-headed snarky librarian friend! Keep up the good work!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mothers Day Movie Double-Threat!

Today was Mothers Day, and as part of the annual fealty display, mine wanted to see "Harry Brown," Michael Caine's take on the pistol-packin' pensioner motif recently (and most successfully) seen in "Gran Torino."  It looked mediocre, no matter how good an actor he is. I wanted to see the Banksy movie, "Exit Through the Gift Shop."  Mom's idea was we'd compromise by ... seeing both.  Um, okay.  So after lunch, we started with Banksy.  My plan was that we'd have our fill with movie one and I’d be off the hook.  No such luck.

After really enjoying the Banksy movie, we walked six blocks north to the second theater and took our seats in an emptyish room.  The endless ads and trailers finally ended and the lights went down. Highly stylized yet abject drear filled the screen, punctuated loudly and often by violence. About 10 minutes in, three women arrived and commenced a flurry of seating indecision near us. They had brought a child who looked to be about eight years old, and all of them ended up just two rows ahead of us. WTF? I was so distracted by thoughts of that child reacting to the horrors onscreen, I wanted to poke one of the adults in the head with my mom’s cane and suggest she get the kid out of the theater.  I thought of calling Social Services.

After the child had quietly witnessed simulated fucking, drug use, a vicious beatdown or two, and gunplay, plus a whole lot of bad language, one of them finally decided to remove him. Several deaths and explosions later, as the end credits rolled, I could not resist asking one of the two remaining women why they had brought him.  Yes, that was an annoying question.  I was annoyed.  She looked annoyed too and said something long and unintelligible. When I asked her to repeat it, she said, “We didn’t know what kind of movie it was.”

Uh, R-rated?  Did that not suggest anything?  And how much on-screen abuse was necessary to ascertain what kind of movie it was?  But I held my tongue.  No sense upsetting a pregnant woman. 

And that, friends, evokes one of the central messages of "Idiocracy," an unjustly overlooked, flawed yet brilliant movie about a future defined by the failure of smart people to reproduce in numbers anywhere approaching those of the stupid. 

Yes, guilty as charged.

On the way out, I asked the young woman at the Customer Service desk if the theater staff can or ever does warn or stop parents from taking kids to violent movies, and she just shook her head.  (I know -- why was I so worked up?  Well, I saw a very scary movie on TV when I was about seven and I still remember being miserable during it.)  "Harry Brown" is rated R "for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content."  But all R means is "Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian." Sorry, kids! 

I know -- it's not the entertainment industry's responsibility to raise kids -- it's the parents' responsibility. I've worked in and around entertainment most of my career, so I am well aware of the argument, and in general, I agree with it. But what do you do when the parents fail the kids?  All the vicious, debased teenagers in "Harry Brown" are products of failed homes.

I wonder where the kid ended up today. I wasn't a fan of Tim Burton's gratuitously dark "Alice in Wonderland," which I had to see for work (believe it or not), but even that portentous, laboriously playful piffle would have been more suitable.  As would "Iron Man 2," in which the cartoon violence is probably scrubbed clean of humanity. Bang! Pow! Okay! Both were playing in that multiplex.

Well, it's almost funny that my mother subjected me to a mediocre movie today, citing executive mom privilege, and that little kid suffered far more at his mom's whim. 

And now, for a word from Philip Larkin:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
Don't I have anything nice to say? Why, yes. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" was funny, thought-provoking, energetic, and very droll.  Suitable for all audiences. May contain strong language.