Archive for June, 2005

Hot Flashes

Hello, my name is Tim, and I will be your columnist today.  In my role as your columnist, I promise to sit around and think of things that I might write down in an attempt to win your acceptance.  Sometimes the ideas I have are big enough to form into complete, column-sized thoughts, whereas sometimes I have smallish ideas that need to be herded, and then haphazardly pasted together like a grade school collage.  I’ve been sweeping ideas out of the corners of my head all day, so this column will most likely be of the collage variety.

My wife and I both grew up in this area and then, after quite a few years in Boston, we moved back to my wife’s hometown, although we both continue to work in the city.  The adjustment to life in a town has been remarkably easy, although I have spent quite a bit of time explaining to my “big city” friends and coworkers that I-495 is NOT on the Massachusetts/New York border…

…On my first commute home from Boston, I thought it would be a good idea to stop at one of those combination gas station/convenience stores.  It seemed like a natural decision, since I needed milk and gas and there was this conveniently located store on my way home that just happened to sell milk AND gas (what will they think of next?).  I arrived home with a full tank of gas and a really good feeling, until I noticed that the milk was at least five days past the expiration date.

My father always says that it’s not an expiration date, it’s just a “sell-by” date and that I’m crazy to throw away perfectly good milk just because the date has passed.  Apparently dairy bravery was not a trait that was passed down to my branch of the family tree.  Call me crazy if you will, Dad, but I’m not willing to take a chance on expired milk only to find my cereal suspended in a bowl full of sour cream.  The milk hit the trash and I resolved that, even if it’s inconvenient, I will not combine my fuel and dairy purchases in the future…

…Since moving to town, I have ordered food from a variety of places, and every single one of the delivery people has been faked out by my address.  I admit that to get my food to me, the delivery people are required to go to a side entrance that is lacking a porch light and then trudge up a flight of stairs, but I’m always sure to give careful directions.  Despite my efforts, however, on many occasions I have had to play air-traffic controller, walking out to the street to wave my food in for a landing.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am an overly demanding food delivery tyrant (and before the local food delivery union votes to make saliva a regular part of my diet), allow me explain that because of their misdirection, I have been able to meet and share a laugh with most of these delivery people about how difficult my apartment is to find.

This is a refreshing change from the delivery people I dealt with in Boston, who would arrive, deliver, and disappear without a word.  I would hardly realize that there had been a person at my door (which led me to form a sneaking suspicion that these city delivery people were actually a new species created by combining the DNA of cab drivers with that of bike messengers).  So, despite the lack of robotic precision, I prefer the social aspect of the “town” deliveries.  It’s funny how a simple thing like delivery people who speak can help to reinforce our decision to leave city life behind.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 24 Jun 2005 No Comments

The Revenge of George Lucas

Anakin Skywalker strides onto a terrace and sees the love of his life, Padme, for the first time in quite a while. He looks at her for a long moment and then says in a wooden tone, “You are very beautiful.”

Padme: “I’m only beautiful because I love you so much.”

Anakin: “I…love…you…more.”

Padme: “No, I love you more.”

Anakin: “No…you…are…the… schmoopie.”

Padme: “No, you are.”

In the world of George Lucas and his Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the above is considered compelling dialogue.

I attended the midnight showing of the movie on opening night, and was very disappointed to see that Lucas hadn’t hired anyone to help him write his screenplay or direct his movie. It is painfully clear that Lucas has no idea how to write dialogue or how to get good performances from his actors any more. I had hoped that he would seek help after the train wrecks that passed for the first two “new” Star Wars movies.

Despite the late hour, I dozed only briefly, in the first part of the movie. Lucas was doing his best to build suspense and political intrigue, and Jimmy Smits was on the screen trying to be Senator Organa, but was really just being Jimmy Smits, and Zzzzz… At least the second half of the movie was mostly filled with action, which was enough to keep me awake.

As a side note: Yes, I understand that by attending the opening night of a Star Wars movie, I have officially confirmed my status as a nerd. I am expecting my membership card and complimentary pocket protector to show up in the mail any day now.

As another side note: I realize that I could not have done a better job than George Lucas, but then again, I do not receive millions of dollars to create compelling movies.

What is very frustrating about Mr. Lucas’ failure to put out a good movie is that he had every opportunity to make three wonderful movies. He had a good story line, an aptitude for great special effects, an incredibly large and dedicated fan base, and good actors practically begging to work for him.

He just wasn’t able to see his own limitations. In his first attempt, Phantom Menace (which I attempted to watch twice, but fell asleep both times), the special effects were amazing, but the acting and dialogue were atrocious. It became clear that Lucas the writer had done a terrible job and that Lucas the director had no idea how to overcome it, even with actors as talented as Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ewan McGregor. Those actors wouldn’t be wise to use their Star Wars performances to get future work, except perhaps for Mr. L. Jackson, who at least breathed some life into his character.

One of the characters, a digital creation named Jar Jar Binks, was so ridiculous as to create backlash among the most hardcore Star Wars fans.

To be fair, there was at least one character in Phantom Menace who was interesting: a double-lightsaber wielding bad guy named Darth Maul. Darth Maul was a great villain. His lines were as bad as everyone else’s, but his looks alone would have kept everyone’s interest.

Naturally, Darth Maul was killed off at the end of Phantom Menace. Maul was then replaced by some guy named Dookoo, who looked like my 6th grade math teacher. Pfft. So much for the cool villain angle.

At that point, Lucas should have reached for help. It was clear that he was over his head. I can only imagine what might have happened if he had tapped his Indiana Jones partner Steven Spielberg to direct the next two installments.

But, reaching out for help would mean splitting the profits, and Lucas wanted no part of that. He trudged on, butchering the second movie in the same pattern: Good special effects, one-liners that were not funny, and overwrought “serious” scenes featuring ridiculous dialogue and wooden acting.

I’m not sure, given my opinion of the first two “new” Star Wars movies, why I thought the third attempt would be any different. Why, I wonder, would I be willing to go to work on 3 hours of sleep just to be the first kid on my block to see Revenge of the Sith?

Was I trying to recapture the days of playing Star Wars figures in my friend Scott’s basement? Did I want to get lost in the world of Darth Vader and the Jedi Knights and the struggle of good vs. evil? Did I think that George Lucas would pull out all of the stops to be sure that his last Star Wars effort was truly great?

I don’t think it was any of that. The only answer that springs to mind is “because I’m an idiot with unreasonably high expectations.” I just wish I had those hours of sleep back.

I wonder if Mr. Lucas can watch these movies and in his heart, honestly be happy with how they turned out. At least he knows that he was well paid for his efforts. Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith grossed about $108 million in its opening weekend.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 17 Jun 2005 No Comments

No Cruising While the Light is Flashing, II

South Beach is very European.  That’s what everyone tells me.  I have never been to Europe, so I can’t confirm this, but if “European” means that the waiters hate you and the beaches are topless then yes, South Beach is very European.

Many of the restaurants in South Beach automatically tack a 16% gratuity onto their dinner checks.  This policy is supposed to force European tourists, who aren’t in the habit of tipping, to cough up extra dough for their servers.  If the waiters in Europe are anything like the waiters in South Beach, I can see why the entire concept of tipping never caught on.

Disclaimer:  I used to be a waiter.  I understand that it is a difficult job and as a result, I try to be an easy customer who tips well.

My favorite South Beach waiter was named “Serge”.  From the beginning, Serge’s attitude made it clear that he was much too busy and important to spend much time with us (myself and Co-Worker Tom).  Our cocktail order apparently bored Serge immensely, so he didn’t bother to deliver it until we were finished eating.

When the meals eventually arrived, they were quite tasty.  They weren’t the meals that we had ordered, but since Serge was very busy with an important cell phone call, we gave up trying to get his attention and ate what we were given.  When I later mentioned the mix-up to Serge, and he rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.  I began to wonder if Serge perhaps didn’t understand English and chose to hide this fact behind a seriously bad attitude.  When the bill arrived, I decided that Serge’s performance did not rate any increase to the automatic 16% gratuity.

Serge apparently disagreed with my opinion.  When I checked my credit card statement online, I noticed that Serge added an extra $4 to his tip.

The beach itself is a “convertible” beach (tops optional), and it is very nice.  I am happy to report that I was able to take the topless nature of the females on the beach in stride.  I didn’t stare, jump up and down, or point…much.  I actually spent most of the time hiding my Irish skin under an umbrella.  Co-Worker Tom, who is single, took a different approach.   He spent the entire time walking up and down the coastline in an effort to ”see every topless woman on this beach.”

A much bigger deal than the topless women were the men wearing thongs.  It was, in a word, HORRID.  Is there any possible way that the concept of overweight hairy men wearing thongs is considered acceptable in Europe?  I refuse to believe that any society on Earth would endorse something that causes temporary blindness.  I would have gladly traded every topless woman on that beach to have the men lose the butt floss and put on some shorts with reasonable coverage.

I had just about regained my eyesight by the time I arrived at my gate in the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.  I was early for my flight and found the gate area full of people waiting for a flight to New York City.  The flight had been delayed many times, and the crowd was getting restless.

The gate attendant tried to lift people’s spirits by making the following announcement, “I apologize for the fact that this flight has been delayed so much.  While we prepare your airplane for boarding, the first two people who come up here and sing a song for me will be allowed to be the first board the aircraft with their families.”

The entire crowd began to cheer and jump up and down.  They seemed to be incredibly excited for what I took to be a move straight out of summer camp.  The elderly woman seated next to me leaned over and said, “She didn’t know this, but we’re all part of a church choir, just back from a trip to Cuba.”

Soon the entire choir began to sing, and their voices filled the airport with song after song of beautiful gospel music.  Everyone in Terminal 2 was smiling as they took a break from the stresses of air travel to appreciate the concert in gate D9.  It was wonderful, and there was nothing European about it.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 10 Jun 2005 No Comments

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