Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jockomo @ BurgerScoot

I hope to submit something here again someday. For now, check out http://www.burgerscoot.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Shameless Plug for a New Blog

Boy, it has been a long time since my last post. Recently, I have been inspired to post something, but the inspiration is for a series of posts. So, I will start fresh with a new blog. Perhaps this will inspire me to submit more posts to this sorry blog in the meantime. Check my new blog at http://www.burgerscoot.blogspot.com/ or just click on the link under My List on your right. At post the blog is still in progress. I hope to have it up soon, though.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bad Movies and Lost Time

A few years ago, I received all three Extended Edition “Lord of the Rings” DVDs for Christmas. Though I wasn’t in the mood for watching the movies at the time I wanted to make sure all the discs were in good shape before I placed them in my video library. Coincidently, my wife showed an interest in these movies—she was one of the few people I know who enjoys cinema, but didn’t see the epic trilogy on the big screen. She decided to watch the films with me to find out why these films received so much media attention.

Inside of a week, my youngest son and I watched the three movies with her—my son and I serving as guides helping her remember the odd names; explaining the differences between humans, hobbits, elves, and orcs; and holding her hand through parts of the story she “just couldn’t wrap her head around,” to quote my son. After the trilogy’s climax, when Frodo dispensed with the cursed ring and Gandalf, on a giant eagle, picked him up along with his bodyguard Sam, my wife sat up and looked at me with a mixture of anger and frustration. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it went something like this: “Are you kidding me? We just suffered through over nine hours of Renaissance fair drivel only to find out that the old guy could have flown over the volcano and dropped the ring in himself—he’s got that big eagle thingy!” While I could have told her that the Eye of Sauron would have noticed the conspicuously large fowl and would have made it difficult for Gandalf to do the game-saving slam-dunk, I simply said that there wouldn’t be a story if our heroes didn’t go through all the trials and tribs first.

Of course, she didn’t buy my simple reasoning and her rage reminded me of how mad I felt after seeing a truly horrible film. Recently, while wasting my time on YouTube I came across a clip from the John Waters film Desperate Living—a film my college friend Paul and I watched back in the 80s. In it, a neurotic wife, played by Mink Stole, yells at an errant phone caller the very thing I used to think when having to sit through a horrible film: “How can you repay the 30 seconds you have stolen from my life?” Since I used up countless hours of my precious finite existence watching filmmakers’ bile and gaining absolutely nothing from them, I often felt like Waters’ neurotic character as well as my wife after the Tolkien trilogy. I would get more enjoyment cleaning out colostomy bags or handing out Watchtower and Awake! magazines door to door.

I think I have viewed more rotten cinema than most people have watched any quality of film. Many of these rotten examples of cinema were films I reviewed for a video guide twenty years ago. The idea at first was great: I would write for a nationally distributed video guide; I wouldn’t receive payment, but the movie rentals for the assigned titles and all the ones I wanted to watch were free. How could this be anything but a plus? Unfortunately, after receiving the first list of titles to review I found that nearly all of these videos were found in the “Direct-to-Video” section of my local video store—which is to say these films never made it to the big screen. I would watch the films in my parents’ room sparing them the pain of pre-empting there regularly scheduled programs. When I finished viewing the really rotten ones I always asked myself if this was really worth it; I could have hanged out with my friends or maybe taken in a good movie, or maybe go to a play, or a club. Anything, even suffering through a syndicated episode of “Happy Days,” would be better than “Christmas Evil,” “Bloodbath at the House of Death,” and all the other titles with the word “blood” in them that I was expected to watch, rate, and come up with words to justify my rating. It is not surprising that I gave the “turkey” (aka the 0-star) rating to many of these films. One might understand why an aspiring writer might play the role of the bottom feeder in a movie video guide project—my work was being published and that’s what counted. Ultimately, the price was too high and after four years, I quit.

Money was not the issue, since I was viewing these films free, but what about the theatrical releases—the films I viewed for my own enjoyment? This was a misery laced with anger. Paul and I once sat through the abomination “Yellowbeard.” It just may be the worst comedy ever produced by a major studio. While there is nothing as funny as a horrible horror film, there is nothing as horrible as a bad comedy. I know that I blow the same amount of money on things that are just as much of a waste of time, but I believe there is an informal contract that filmmakers and film viewers go into when paying for the ticket. The viewer pays the industry to make, distribute, and present the film to entertain the viewer. Much like slipping some coin in a jukebox to hear a good song.

This problem of time ill spent is never so evident when you are seeing movies free of charge, since demanding your money back or receiving a credit for a movie you paid for may give you some satisfaction that masks the real problem—lost time. After the “Yellowbeard” incident, in a sarcastic fit I came up with a brilliant albeit sophomoric idea: the “Time Token.” If this Wellsian device existed I would have demanded time tokens in the theatres that presented “Yellowbeard,” “Jaws 3,” and Steven Spielberg’s cinematic turd “1941.” In these and many other occasions too painful to count, I would have hopped in a booth located in the theatre lobby and inserted the token I demanded from the theatre manager, which would be worth the exact amount of time of the film I watched. In less than a minute I wound be transported back to the film’s starting time. Just before exiting the time machine, I would be briefed on what just happened:

Welcome to Flickimark’s Time Reclamation Machine. Tonight, January 17, 2009 at, 7:30 p.m. you purchased a ticket for Bride Wars. You demanded back the 90 minutes you spent watching this film. The time is now 7:30 p.m., again. Please remember to reset your watch. We hope you appreciate this service and return to Flickimark Cinemas.
Disclaimer: the Flickimark’s Time Reclamation Machine is to be used for viewing time redemption only. It is highly discouraged to view the same movie of which you have reclaimed your time—this may cause severe déjà vu…Flickimark’s Time Reclamation Machine is not programmed for future time travel. Any, tampering with the program is unlawful. Any such tampering could irreparably disturb the space-time continuum…

While sitting through a movie like “Red Dawn” would make me as angry as listening to Rush Limbaugh, there was other—equally horrible—films I actually found entertaining. For instance, while I kept my disgust to myself about reviewing most of the crap handed to me by the video guide editor I jumped at the chance to critique the works of Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, and John Waters. (I was honored he handed me the entire Waters catalog to review!) It was at this point I ran into problems with the editor of the guide. I had lost focus on what was “good” and what was “good camp”—the two blurred together and on more than one occasion I had to change my rating of some of these films from three or four stars to two, one, or even a “turkey” rating. Initially, this angered me, but seeing John Water’s “Multiple Maniacs,” which I originally gave a high rating, next to the five-star 1932 classic, “The Mummy” in the movie guide drove home the point: this was a serious movie guide, not some novel collection of camp classics.

This taste for the truly bad started with my friend and college buddy Rick, but didn’t really take off until I met Paul, who worked at a sister theatre. During midnight viewings of films at one of the theatres where we worked, we discovered our mutual love for bad cinema while simultaneously laughing at the unintentionally funny scenes. Our friendship flourished, nurtured by crappy slasher films of the 80s. Around the same time, Paul transferred to the theatre where I worked and shortly after that, I moved into his apartment. As movie theatre employees, Paul and I fully exercised the benefit of the inter-theatre employee pass system. Being able to view any movie in town free was the only benefit minimum wage theatre employees received. We not only watched all the big productions like “Full Metal Jacket,” “Ran,” “House of Games,” and “Mississippi Burning” for free, we saw all the crap, too—especially slasher and exploitation films like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night” (the original), “My Bloody Valentine” (also the original), and the Greatest Bad Movie since “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Pieces.”

I don’t think any of the theatre managers expected anyone besides naive teenagers to go to these films, but rotten films became comedy classics when you were with a friend who could turn every hackneyed line, every predictable plot turn into comedy funnier than an intentionally humorous films. Paul and I made the best out of films that should have been melted down for the silver; cracking jokes at the screen preceding the cult cable television series Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Still, too many of these films could not be redeemed by our witty remarks and I would often wonder if I could have spent the time doing something productive instead of sitting through “The Jar.”

One Sacramento theatre in particular was infamous for consistently showing the worst exploitation and slasher films in the world. Whenever Paul and I would sign into this theatre to watch such howlers as “Enter the Ninja” and “The Exterminator” the manager would look at us and roll her eyes. On one occasion, she said to Paul as he was signing us in, “I know why we have to show these lousy films, but I don’t know why the hell you have to come and see them.” Paul laugh, but she was serious. There wasn’t a simple explanation why two employees of the city’s premiere art house would want to watch "Gymkata."

When I think of all the bad cinema I have sat through, I can’t help but wonder if I would have been a successful business man like my father or brother if I would have skipped the self-indulgence. Perhaps if I had taken journalism seriously and skipped the free movies for an internship at the local metropolitan paper I would be a respected reporter by now. Maybe I had done something with my life that would have added up to something more than what I got watching “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” but a part of me thinks I just couldn’t have stood the boredom.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Transition to Audiobooks
About nine months ago, I put down the book I was struggling through and made the transition to audiobooks. I did not take this move lightly; in fact, I am a little embarrassed by it. It is not that I have never listened to an audiobook before. Even a voracious reader like my wife chose to buy the audiobook version of David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim instead of the paperback. After reading the brilliant Me Talk Pretty One Day, my wife decided to purchase Sedaris’ next book in an audio format just to hear the author’s voice. Although the material wasn’t as good as Sedaris’ previous book, his dry, effeminate voice, replete with hilarious impressions, actually made the audiobook funnier than his earlier work. Before officially making this move I had already listened to the Sedaris audiobook as well as Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, and Johnson and Blanchard’s Who Moved My Cheese?. However, my reading problems hadn’t reached such a serious level during the time that I listened to these books on audio CDs.

I have suffered from poor vision throughout my life—I have one lazy eye and elements of both far- and near-sightedness in my dominant eye. I recall my nearsightedness as far back as first grade when I could not see the words on the blackboard. Since I didn’t care much for school, I really didn’t think that sitting in the front row throughout my elementary years was a problem I needed to be concerned with. It wasn’t until a family trip to Disneyland while I was in high school that I realized I had a problem. I remember scoffing at a sign on an empty amphitheatre stage. “Check out the lame rip-off band ‘Doobie Gang,’” I said to my brother. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “It says “Dobie Gray.”

A few years later, I managed to squeak by my first of many vision tests at the DMV. While my “good” eye gave me grief, my lazy eye turned out to cause bigger problems than my inability to get dates. In college I had to read multiple chapters of textbooks every week, I discovered I was not increasing my reading speed, despite Evelyn Wood and other resources, since I was reading with only one eye. Experts told me that this condition was permanent, in terms of my reading speed. My monocular reading condition causes an extra strain on my dominant eye, so I get sleepy easier than most and suffer from headaches during long nights of cramming.

Over the years, I have read many books that I absolutely loved, yet I fought a seemingly endless battle between concentrating and snoozing. Moreover, the older I got, the harder it became to finish books. A few years ago, I started the depressing trend of not finishing books after the first 20 to 50 pages. While some may argue that there is nothing wrong with this habit—perhaps I have become more discerning with and protectiveed of my time, I knew better. Some of these books were quite engaging. The physical task of reading became too tiring for me, and I was annoyed that I could only cover three to five pages before nodding off. What’s worse, I usually ended up embarrassing myself and others, snoring away on the living room easy chair while my sons had to make excuses for me to their girlfriends (I snore loud enough to rattle the windows.)

I started out reading the paperback versions of The Shadow of the Wind and The Glass Castle. After only about a chapter in each I cut over to the audiobook versions and realized that I could consume much more text through my ears than through my eye in a given amount of time. Still, I continued to buy and borrow traditional books instead of audiobooks. It wasn’t until I found myself plodding through Tim Holland’s wonderful Rubicon that I realized I should stick with audiobooks. Alas, the acclaimed British author’s book is not available in audio format on this side of the Atlantic.

In the time it took me to read halfway though Rubicon, I have listened to Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a collection of short stories by Philip Dick, Steven Pressfield’s Killing Rommel, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and most of William Young’s The Shack. (I couldn’t finish that one—it’s horrible!). At this rate, I am sure I will also complete Jose Saramago’s beautifully written Blindness before I finish Holland’s book. I think it is realistic to say I have shelved Rubicon, though it pains me to admit this. In between all these audiobooks, I have also listened to countless recorded sermons, books from the Bible, and a horrible audio class on the Apostle Paul that I purchased through the otherwise wonderful resource, The Teaching Company.

The obvious reason why I now can consume so much literature, compared to when I was reading, is that listening to audiobooks and other audio materials liberates me from the task of holding a book up to my face. I listen while I am commuting, during slow times at work, during my workouts, at bedtime, as well as when I usually would read, sitting at home or while I am taking my lunch at work. You may argue that many, if not all, of the activities mentioned above can be used to read, and I have tried them all, only to arrive at a similar dismal outcome. I often see someone I know from work at a local restaurant—his head always in a book. I also see my fellow commuters reading on their way to or from work, and I notice fellow health club members on elliptical machines employing the book holders while working out. What I’m talking about is using all this time—just about every free chunk of time I have. Of course, I could use some of the more sedentary times to actually read (at home after dinner, during lunch, etc.), but that only starts the read-snore-read-snore cycle again. I have relegated reading time to doctors’ offices and other bits of free time. At this rate, I doubt I will ever finish that book.

One of the drawbacks of listening to books is that you end up tuning out the rest of the world. As bad as the world is becoming, that would seem like a good thing, but not always. When I don my earphones and iPod, people with whom I usually see and greet on the street act as if I don’t want them to bother me. Although untrue, the earphones must send this message, since people on the bus who usually sit near or next to me just smile and look elsewhere. I felt isolated when I first started listening to books during my commute to work. Later, I began speaking up to my fellow commuters when wearing my headphones. I have had many lively conversations in the past with these folks and don't want to jeopardize our relationship over my wearing headphones. I realized that I may be giving them mixed signals. I’m still working this out.

Another very different drawback to audiobooks is the recording quality. One rarely finds a book where the font is obtrusive to the story, but an audiobook can be poorly narrated or perhaps dramatized in a way that detracts from the story. The biggest drawback to audiobooks is that so many titles are only available in an abridged version. It is a sacrilege to consume an abridged version of Melville’s Moby Dick or Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, but abridged versions of these works are available in both traditional and audiobook formats. The problem is that sometimes the audiobook customer has no choice but to listen to an abridged version. I listened to abridged versions of Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I didn’t feel good about this, but the abridged versions were all my sources offered in these audiobooks. Initially I got most of my titles through the library, which limited my choices. I now have an Audible.com account, but I do not enjoy paying $15 per book each month for the service.

I have now finished Blindness and have moved on to listen to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Ravi Zacharias’ Recapture the Wonder, which I am listening to with my wife at bedtime. She has taken an interest in audiobooks, ironically to help her fall asleep. I originally read On the Road in college, and now I am revisiting this classic twenty years later—something I never would have done without the audiobook format. I have been considering a new, more robust iPod—my Shuffle is difficult to navigate without a screen. At the rate I am going, I will soon have an iTunes library of audiobooks to rival my buckling bookcases.

Addendum: I have created another blog. The Audiobook Shelf will be a journal of my opinion of recently listen audiobooks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Wilder-ness
The tour guide gave us an action item of sorts as we traveled back to Skagway after visiting the toe of the Davidson Glacier. “Get out into the wilderness more often, even if it is your backyard,” she explained that our backyard is a wilderness because it is “wilder” than the indoors. I guess she is correct; although, I have been in backyards of some condominiums that have been nothing but concrete and fences. Personally, I have always been a concrete kind of guy, perhaps that is why I always liked the idea of condos. Even growing up around dirt bikes, dune buggies, campers, boats, and fishing, I have always been the kid that wanted to stay home.

The excursions I took while on my Alaskan cruise didn’t seem too tough; I was well cared for by tour guides, and I returned to a nice comfy cruise liner at each day’s end. Besides, this was during the relatively warm months in the great Northwest. I wasn’t walking on a glacier in the freezing blackness of the Alaskan winter. With that said, here’s a very brief travel log of my vacation complete with images. I won’t bore you with the onboard details. Not to say that the time onboard was boring, it’s just that, unless something like a murder or a diamond heist occurred while at sea, I don’t see much point in telling you how well I was fed and how much reading I did with a breathtaking view of Alaskan/Canadian coast just over my shoulder.

June 28, Juneau: The Icefield
While in Juneau, I hiked on the famous ice field. The Juneau Icefield covers nearly 2,500 miles and includes over 20 glaciers. I was so in awe of the spectacle while flying in a helicopter over portions of icefield that I forgot to ask the pilot which specific glacier we would be hiking on; however, referring to the icefield map afterwards, it appeared as though our group hiked on the Mendenhall Glacier. After donning gloves and helmets to our already fitted boots, pants, and jackets, the tour guides helped fasten crampons and harnesses and gave us each an ice ax and a backpack. For three hours, we trekked along the icefield viewing stunning blue ice where the snow had accumulated and had compacted the underlying snow layers from previous years into solid ice, causing changes in volume, density, and crystal structure. The ice appears blue because it absorbs all colors of the visible light spectrum, except blue, which it transmits.

Perhaps the most magnificent component of the glacier was the icefalls, created when the glacier would move downhill on a steep slope. These icefalls are literally hanging glaciers, falling slowly over time by the force of gravity. As the glacier advances down the mountainside and into valley, it breaks apart and accumulates into massive piles of melting and solid ice with huge gaps separating ice blocks the size of houses. The ice blocks then continue to tilt and twist under the weight of the ice above them. Occasionally, we would have to jump over a crack in the glacier only about 18 inches wide, but over 100 feet deep. We could hear a waterfall deep under the surface. When we reached the point where the water dropped off into the narrow gorge, we dumped our bottled water and filled our bottles with the real thing—glacier water. It tasted far better than anything I have ever drank.

We would occasionally walk on what looked like water, where organic material, such as leaves blown in from the nearest mountainside, had landed, and their energy would melt the ice only to have it freeze over, creating a bright clear-blue frozen pond. We all led with our ice axes testing the ice to ensure it was not water; it was that clear. When we crossed the clear-blue ice pond, I could see the base camp tents and knew our excursion was about over. I would be lying if I said that the rest of the cruise and the excursions were anticlimactic, but without a doubt, the best part of the vacation was at an end.

June 30, Skagway: The Davidson Glacier
In Skagway, we took a ride on a 3200 horsepower catamaran to a secluded area near the toe of the Davidson Glacier called Glacier Point. On the beach where the catamaran dropped us off, the mosquitoes were so thick a person could hit at least two with a single swat. We hiked through a rain forest where the guides assured us that, while this was Grizzly country, the trees were too close together for bears to hunt. Still, I regarded the narrow trees to see if I could climb any of them if one of the behemoths was too hungry to care about the tight fit forest or happened to discover our eight-foot-wide trail.

In the center of the forest, we found our guides’ Spartan living quarters. Before using the outhouse, the guide implored us to put our used toilet paper in a box adjacent to, but not directly in, the waste pit. The guides said they dig out the pit every two weeks and add the fortnight’s produce to a nearby compost pile; if there is any toilet paper in the pile, they have to remove it by hand. On the outhouse deck were a half-dozen bottles of mosquito repellent. After dousing ourselves with the spray, we took a short hike to canoes where we paddled to the glacier. One thing that fascinated me about the guides was that the mosquitoes were not attacking them. Additionally, they did their presentations without a single swat at the bugs—as if the bloodsuckers flying around their head were not there.

The glacier would have seemed awesome had I not be hiking on the Juneau Icefield a couple days previous. Still, when the guide explained why we couldn’t get any closer than about 100 feet from the ice, I was impressed. He told us that if the glacier corked (i.e., if the bottom of the glacier, underwater, broke off and shot to the surface), the displacement of water would be so great that we might be knocked over or hit by the giant wave. This explained the outboard motors on all the canoes. We did see a part of the glacier calve. Actually, everyone in the canoe, except me, saw the giant piece of ice break loose from the glacier and splash into the fjord; all I heard was the violent CRACK and when I turned around, I only saw the big splash and heard everyone saying, “Wow, did you see that!” It’s ironic that years ago I began what ultimately turned out to be a ten-year harping to my wife about going on an Alaskan cruise on the prospect of seeing a glacier calve. I missed my only chance.

July 2, Prince Rupert, B.C.: Whale Watching
I saw a Humpback Whale in the waters off Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It is amazing to get so close to one. Now I know why all the people fresh from Alaskan cruises either talk about their experience seeing one up close or whine about not seeing any at all; it’s a stirring experience. Since we missed the season when most Humpbacks are in the area, the guide played down the whale-watching portion of the trip and talked about the seals we were heading out to visit. When the Humpback surfaced, we chased it for a while until its tail fin appeared, signifying it was going down for a long dive. We caught up with it sometime later; however, it did a long dive again, and we headed back to the dock.

Before we took our Zodiac craft out to try to track down these gentle giants of the sea, our guide drove us only a few yards from where the craft was moored to point out Bald Eagles in flocks as thick as seagulls. The majestic birds have grown lazy, roosting near a dock. They now wait for the fishing boats to come back to scrounge for food. This was not the habitat I imagined the iconic American bird to have. Perhaps they are just lazy in Canada.

The sad thing about the excursion was that it was, minus a trip to an old cannery later that day, the last one on the trip. The next two days we were at sea, much of that time was spent eating, reading, and packing. Even in fifty-degree weather, I was beginning to feel the heat of Sacramento.

Home: Smoke and Heat
Four days later, back at work, I just stared at my LCD’s wallpaper, an image of the giant Mendenhall Glacier, fondling a small wooden box I bought in Skagway, supposedly made by natives; it’s the only thing I can touch that came from the place. I feel a little like Peter Riegert’s character in Local Hero—an outsider who falls in love with a foreign land and its rugged beauty but has to return to his lonely office.

I’m now at home playing fetch with our dog in triple-digit weather. I’m in my backyard—the “wilder-ness” and am amazed that I can’t see clearly from one side of my yard to the other; the heat and the smoke from all the Northern California fires have made me long for Alaska. Even the ruggedness of Glacier Point would be a welcome substitute—at least you can swat mosquitoes, you can’t swat smoke.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Bitter Cup (or what you can gleen from a Seattle coffeehouse bathroom wall)
I normally react to restroom stall literature with disgust, but this got me thinking; first, on how shallow this comment initially sounds—comparing WWII and the Cold War that immediately followed with the Iraq War and the terrorism that will inevitably increase whether or not the U.S. “prevails.” Regardless who will be next president and the presidents that follow him, the next twenty years are going to be rough. Enjoy that latte!