Archives for December 2011

Han Solo and Greedo Shot The Same Time

After a long, unbearably cruel embargo, Christmas came a week early for my four-year-old son, as we finally watched “Star Wars” together. It was kind of a big deal, because he has been obsessed with all things “Star Wars” for a couple of years now, and because it was the first movie we’ve watched with him on the wall — by which I mean the high-def projector in our basement, on which his mother and I have been secretly enjoying nine feet of Blu-ray movies and HD cable when he’s asleep and only when he’s asleep, while denying him the narcotic effects of any TV or movies until he’s older.

To mark the occasion, and to get as close as possible to the experience I had when I first saw the movie in the theater (I was almost exactly his age in the summer of 1977), I bought the Blu-ray of the latest version of the original trilogy. If there were a Blu-ray of the original versions of the movies — the versions I saw as a kid — I would have bought those, but that isn’t an option, so I had to settle for the “Special Editions,” which of course is the versions George Lucas re-released in the 90s with various digital “improvements” to the special effects.

These improvements caused quite an outcry at the time, and people are still bitching about it now — when these Blu-rays were released a few months ago there was a big kerfuffle because they voiceovered a comically bad “NOOOOOOO!!” into Darth Vader’s mouth in the climactic scene in “Return Of The Jedi” where he saves Luke from the Emperor, to match the comically bad moment in “Star Wars — Episode III” where Anakin/Darth Vader is told that his wife has died.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen any of the original “Star Wars” movies since the Special Edition of the first one came out in 1996. I never saw the other two Special Editions — I know they’re on Spike all the time but I can’t take that many Bud Light and Axe commercials at once. At some point, while flipping channels, I did happen across the “improved” band sequence at Jabba the Hutt’s palace, with an alien Tina Turner singing a terrible song with a terrible alien backing band, and a little part of me died inside. In any case, even though I lived and breathed “Star Wars” as a kid and into my 20s, I haven’t seen any of the first three movies in 15 years.

So it was a big occasion to show it to my kid, and he couldn’t have been more excited about it, but I was pretty excited to watch it myself. I know a lot of people didn’t buy the Blu-rays because we’re all fed up with George’s lame changes to the movies, but I do not have the luxury of such a principled stand, because I have a 4-year-old boy in my house. (My principled stand is that I will never acknowledge the existence of the prequels. If he wants to learn about that trash, he can pick it up on the streets, but not in my house.) Read More

Tales From The Meet Market

I was standing at the end of the bar looking at my phone. It was my first slow moment in about four hours. The bar had been busy, but it was getting late and things were tapering off — enough that when the house phone rang, I answered it. (Answering the phone is what the fancy voicemail system and the manager are for. The bartender is for stuffing twenties in the drawer, and that always gets first priority.)

“Hi, are you still open?” asked an adult female voice.
“Yeah, til 4,” I said.
“How’s your night going?” she asked.
“Great! How’s yours?” I probably sounded a little too chipper, like to the point of sarcasm, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“What are you doing after work?” That was a weird question. It’s not the first time I’ve ever been asked that by a stranger, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked by a stranger over the phone.
“Going home!” This was true. I had to get up in the morning and go to my day job.
“Are you horny?”

Here I paused for just a second. I’m not really eligible to have this conversation. But how often do you get to talk dirty on the phone with an adult female voice? So I say, “Yeah, aren’t you?” I do not say it sexy. I say it the way I would say it if the question was “Are you going to try the ice-cream cake?”

“Yeah, I am,” she said. She said it sexy. She did not sound ugly, and despite the fact that it could obviously go nowhere, some part of me wanted to go forward with some sexy talk.  
“What do you look like?”
Fun is fun, but I now realized it was time to pull the e-brake. “Six foot nine, Samoan, four hundred pounds,” and I hung up the phone. Read More

Healing Back Pain With Magical Thinking

I was putting a shirt on, reaching behind my back trying to catch the sleeve, when I felt that old familiar sting. Right in the sweet spot, in the meat behind my left collarbone. It hadn’t yet spread through the whole muscle — it was like the first pinprick before the poison goes in.

I knew immediately that I was in for another dance with my old friend Shoulder Pain. Shoulder Pain has been with me on and off since I was about 22. Sometimes it lasts a couple of weeks, sometimes for months, and it is always just delightful. The area between my neck and my shoulder fossilizes, making turning my head, tilting it, or looking up or down bitterly painful. No matter what your lifestyle, this is going to put a crimp in it.

I have probably gone through a dozen or so bouts with Shoulder Pain. The first was undoubtedly the worst. I returned from a snowboarding trip unable to turn my head in either direction. As time wore on, a sharp stiffness spread from a spot by my neck I could massage with one finger to eventually afflict my entire left shoulder and neck, under my arm, and eventually over to the other shoulder. Six weeks in, I could find no comfortable way to hold my head, other than laying on a soft pillow, and 12 weeks in I felt like if I wanted to start crying, I could do it on command, anytime.

Desperate for relief, I ignored my accountant’s advice and went to a chiropractor.  She did not help me.  If anything, she made it worse: moving my head into exactly the positions that sent electrifying, sharp pain right down the center channel, the positions I had been training myself for the last three months to avoid. I tried to relax and let her do her thing but my body tried to protect itself on instinct, and resisted everything she tried to do. I left $300 poorer and in more pain than before.

Around this time, some of my best friends were living in a big house/small commune situation — a 5-bedroom house in Northern California that was home to my friends (a married couple with a baby), plus another couple with a baby, a really weird guy with a shaved head that preferred nudity, and a prickly lesbian couple clearly not thrilled to encounter men in any context. Other than my friend, all the women in the house were new-agey massage therapists, and I longed to ask one of them, any of them, for help with my shoulder. Read More

Eschew Obfuscation

Messaging is very important in politics. If commitment can be judged by execution, then messaging is not only the most important thing to the Republican Party and its public representatives, it’s the most important thing to anyone ever.

In any given news cycle you can depend on the right side of the aisle to be basically unified in their language, right down to the words they use. They didn’t “cut welfare,” they “enacted welfare reform.”

They didn’t talk about a “tax cut,” they talked about “tax relief.” Whether it’s by massive conspiracy or total coincidence, they all somehow seem to get on the same page with regard to any subject of debate; not only do they all uniformly agree on everything always, they all use the exact same phrases and formulations to discuss it. In this, they can rightly be praised for being exceptionally good at staying On Message.

They are not wrong to do this: anyone would if they could, including the perennially disorganized Democrats. After 30 years of electoral pummeling at the hands of the invincible GOP message machine, Democrats are finally starting catch on and are now trying to do it too. (They don’t want to “raise taxes,” they want to “raise revenue.”) But they are so late to the party and so bad at it, they are like the shambling, unrehearsed, out-of-tune Grateful Dead on their worst night compared to the GOP’s tight military precision, a la the original JB’s.

If that tight band has a bandleader — the guy who writes the tunes, makes sure everybody knows his parts, and tells everybody when to hit it and when to quit it, the Republicans’ James Brown has been Frank Luntz.

Luntz is one of the leading architects of Republican syntax over the last few election cycles. He is the man who suggested that everyone with an (R) by their name said “climate change” instead of “global warming” and “government takeover” instead of “healthcare reform.” We can thank him for guiding George W. Bush to victory in 2004 in part by renaming “inheritance tax” “the death tax.” (Because while few of us have an inheritance to defend from taxation, everybody dies and the idea of being taxed even in the grave is easy for anybody to hate.) He analyzes the issues of the day and recommends language to his clients (invariably Republican officeholders) to best turn public opinion to the clients’ position. Read More