Friday, May 30, 2008

I Owe My High School Drama Teacher An Apology

(Hey, better late than never, right?)

Forever ago -- something like 10th grade -- I was an usher for our High School play.  Because I was ushering for it, I was invited to watch the dress rehearsal the day before the performances.  The audience was comprised of just the ten or so of us who would be ushering for the show.

Well, the performance was running a bit long.  I took the school bus to school, and my bus was about to leave.  I kept checking my watch, hoping the show would end in time for me to grab the bus and, y'know, have a ride home.

So, the show ends, the curtain falls, I've got about a minute to spare, and during the blackout before the curtain calls, I sneak out to run to my bus--

--and get stopped by my teacher on the way out the door.  She asks me where I think I'm going.  Um, the bus?  Panicked, I tell her it's leaving without me. 

"I don't care."  She says.  "You don't walk out during the curtain call."

But, but ... the bus.  It's leaving.

I turned to the bowing actors.  I applauded.  I waited until they finished.  Then, my teacher moved out of the way, and I ran like hell out the door.  Just barely made the bus.  Might've even had to knock on the door as it was leaving.

Furious.  Absolutely furious.  For days.  I mean, I damn near had no way home.  It wasn't like there'd be another bus in 20 minutes.  Or that she would drive me home if I missed the bus.  Honestly, the other 9 people could have clapped about as loud as they would have with me there.  I had weighed the pros and cons of the situation, and made the call that getting home was more important.  (It wasn't like I'd walked out on the show itself.  And I'd tried to sneak out in the dark, too, to be subtle about it.)

Which brings us to last night.  Hollywood Bowl.  (Again.  It's been a busy week.)  This time: R.E.M.

Now, conveniently, I had a good seat.  I say this because there were some sound issues.  People in the upper seats couldn't hear much at all -- for people in my section, you just had to keep your enthusiasm a little less vocal in order to hear the band.  I mention this because I understand that some people were a bit frustrated by the sound, and it kept them from totally digging this concert.

Band announces the last song -- not the song before the obligatory blackout when you cheer for awhile (while they take a pee or something) and then they come back on.  The actual last song.  ("Man on the Moon.")  And the exodus begins.  People start leaving their seats and heading for the exits.  I mean, we've been told we have 25 minutes from the end of the concert in order to make it to the busses and these folks are taking no chances.  (I will assume they came by shuttle bus.  If they drove themselves, they really have no excuse -- as parking at the Bowl is "stacked," so leaving early just means you sit in your car until the 20 or so people parked in front of you have left)

"Man on the Moon" ends.  The hundreds of people leaving during the song are now joined by virtually everyone else heading for the door.  The house lights are still down.  The band is still on stage.  They're putting their arms around each other and bowing, while ten or so thousand people gather their crap and try to stumble down the stairs in the dark.

I stay at my seat applauding, and don't leave until the lights come up.  I join the stream heading for the door and get caught up in the bottleneck.  Wall to wall people not actually moving at all.  I hear people complaining that they'll miss their bus, but, actually, we would ultimately get out of the theater and down to the busses in about seven minutes.  A dude nearby, annoyed at the human traffic jam, asks his companion, "Was 'Man on the Moon' really worth it?" 

And I think, that's not the question.  The question is, R.E.M. just rocked the hell out for the last two hours.  Is being the first person to make it to your bus really worth not giving them the dignity of applauding for them at the end of their show?  Even if it wasn't the best concert you've ever seen, they were working up there (and the sound problems weren't their fault), sticking around to applaud is just common decency.


That's what she was trying to teach me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back to the 80s

And what a delightful Retro Week it's been.  Started off with Indiana Jones and Some Random Relic With Mystical Powers.  Which I would've enjoyed even if it was totally stupid.  Which I sorta think it was.

But, y'know, damn.  It's another Indiana Jones movie.  I am so the target audience for these things.  Waited in line for the second and third.  The second one (widely acknowledged as the weakest of the three) came out the summer I turned 16.  I waited in line for it.  Repeatedly.  Somewhere (in storage, most likely), I've got a box of the ticket stubs of all the movies I've seen from then until ... until the lid off the box broke, actually.  And the most folded and unfolded of them all is this orange-striped number from the very first time I saw Temple of Doom.  It's been looked at and refolded so many times, the ink has faded to near non-readability.  But you can still see the "5:30" theater personnel scrawled on the back in black magic marker, to make sure we didn't try to sneak into an earlier showing.  Couldn't tell you how many ticket stubs in that box are from the second and third Indiana Jones movies, but I'm sure it's double digits.  Probably in the teens somewhere.

Interesting factoid about me:  I actually wrote a letter to the Los Angles Times defending Temple of Doom against charges of it being too violent for its PG rating.  The Times cut my well-reasoned page-long defense down to a couple sentences, but did print it.  The letter came out the same day the LA Times printed lists of all A-students in LAUSD schools.  Actually had my name in the paper twice that day.

I digress.  Anyway, a new Indiana Jones movie -- with snarky dialogue and opportunities to watch Harrison Ford kicking butt and takin' names -- well, that just teleports me right back to those happy years where I spent summers watching the same movies over and over -- and spent time in school making up "quizzes" for my friends, testing our recollection of every wonderful scene.

And then, yesterday, as the result of a random comment a coupla weeks ago (followed by some eBaying on the part of Peggy's husband), I found myself at the Hollywood Bowl (with  my pal, Peggy), getting a second-hand high off the cloud of pot smoke, enjoying the reunion tour of The Police.  Never had a chance to see The Police in concert back in the 80s -- what with them annoyingly breaking up before the aformentioned summer when I learned to drive.  And, actually, I really didn't get into their music until I was solidly in college.  Insert here a flashback of my roommates and I swooning over the "Every Breath You Take" video.  Insert here a flashforward to the two blondes standing in front of me and Peggy at the concert, drinking many beers, and bouncing up and down with uncontrollable excitement when Sting first appeared on stage.  Oh, tell me I wasn't ever that bad.  Please?  Of course, we couldn't possibly ask the blondes to sit the hell down.  They were digging the concert in their own way, as we were in ours -- and just because age (well, not so much age as the sanity, limited endurance, sobriety, wonky knees, and the day job that all come along with age) makes my way of enjoying the concert a little bit more sedate (and, if I had my way, sedentary) than theirs doesn't make me want to rain on their parade any more than they wanted to rain on ours.  I'm finally seeing The Police in concert.  My inner teenager squeals, but it's my outer lawyer that can afford decent seats.  This is so cool.

And, OK, maybe Sting can't quite wail on "Roxanne" as well as he did thirty years ago.  Harrison Ford is keeping his shirt on a bit more than he did twenty-five years ago, too.  It doesn't matter a bit.  We're all here now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Open Letter to American Airlines

Dear American Airlines,

I write you as both a loyal frequent flier of American and a stockholder.  I read today that you're going to start charging $15 for the first checked bag on all domestic flights.  With all due respect, are you nuts?

Look, I understand times are tough and cutbacks are necessary.  I really, really do.  Fuel prices have hit you hard.  And I can even understand the fuel surcharges.  (I'm not happy about them, but I understand them.  Oddly enough, my employer has not raised my salary to cover my extra fuel expense in hauling my butt to work, nor has it passed that cost on to its customers.  Apparently I'm eating the fuel costs both when I use fuel myself, and when I use your service that uses fuel.  But no matter, we're talking about luggage charges right now.)

Here's the problem:  9/11.  I'm sure you remember it.  It prompted dramatic increases in airport security.  Including delightful little numbers like putting all your carry-on liquids in 3-ounce containers and cramming them into quart-sized plastic bags.  Do you know what the TSA recommends in order to deal with this?  Here, I'll quote it for you:  "Please pack liquids, gels, and aerosols in your checked baggage even if you do not normally check a bag."

Result:  You're giving people a $15 incentive to try to carry their bags on when they otherwise would have checked, despite the fact that the TSA is trying to get people to check their bags

Certainly, I can imagine what's going to happen here.  More carry-ons.  More people trying to get more stuff past security.  Longer security lines.  More unhappy customers. 

Also:  larger carry-ons trying to make it on planes.  Less room on planes for carry-ons.  More gate-checking.  More unhappy customers.

And obviously:  More customers realizing they don't have to pay $15 for a bag at other airlines.  More unhappy customers.

American's reputation dropping in the toilet.  More people preferring to fly other airlines so they can avoid the security lines, the crowded planes, and the fees that go along with flying American.  Is the additional revenue from $15 for the first checked bag worth it?  I seriously doubt it.

I should really sell my American stock, and start using up my AAdvantage miles, because with practices like this, I don't really see either of those two things having much value in the long-term.  Get it together, folks -- instead of trying to nickel and dime us in order to save money, how about trying instead to make flying American a better experience than flying other airlines, so that more people will actually want to fly you instead of anyone else?  Increasing the amount of passengers would be much better for your long-term bottom line than trying to wring extra money out of the few customers you've still got.

Or have I got that wrong?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Given the last entry, perhaps they have a point

Have your friends ever told you something about yourself that you had no idea was true?

A few days ago, I was having dinner with some friends, and one of them accused me of liking "dark things."  (I think we might have been talking about Dexter at the time.)  And my immediate reaction was to think about things like Silence of the Lambs (I am not a fan) and say, "No, I don't."  "Yes, you do," they said.  One of them pointed out that I liked South Park.  ("South Park isn't dark," I thought, "South Park is disgusting.") 

For some reason, this categorization of me as someone who likes dark things stayed with me.  Like it pigeon-holed me in the same place you file people who keep random body parts preserved in jars on the shelf just because.  I do not like dark things.  I have a pink wall!  I collect Disney snowglobes!

(It does nag, just a teensy bit, that one of my favorite law school professors pretty much wrote the book on torture and I'd made a point of attending when he recently gave a brief lecture on the topic in L.A.  But that's just a fascination with the way the legal system responds when solid evidentiary proof is not easily obtainable (and a curiosity as to what he'd say about waterboarding), that's not, y'know, liking dark things.  Right?)

So, yesterday, I was out with a close friend, and ran it by her.  (OK, yeah, it came up in conversation because I mentioned how the last movie I'd seen was Sweeney Todd.  What's your point?  It was a musical, for cryin out loud.)

And she said, "Of course you like dark things.  You think they're funny."



I think I can live with that.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Comments About a TV Show You Don't Watch

You ever notice how you sort of "discover" a new cable channel?  One that you never watched before, but then, all of a sudden, you find yourself watching everything on it?  Over the years, I've done that with A&E, Bravo, Discovery, and, most recently BBC America.

And as part of my ongoing "What?  There's a series on BBC America I don't watch?" kick, I took a look at a show called "Wire in the Blood."

It follows a psychologist who gets himself attached to a police department because of his ability to profile bad guys by really getting into their heads based on the evidence of their crimes alone.  (In some ways, the protagonist falls into the same camp as House and Monk -- in that he, like them, bears a resemblance to Sherlock Holmes in his quite nifty ability to make apparently amazing deductions from what he sees, and also has some level of social awkwardness which apparently goes along for the ride when you're carrying that sort of brilliance.) 

I digress.  "Wire in the Blood."  Psychologist cop.  Profiling bad guys.  Generally, serial bad guys (because what's the use of profiling a one-time-only killer?)

I discover that I'm jumping into this show in its fifth season, and it's good enough for me to add the first few seasons to my Netflix queue.

And here's where we get to the reason for this particular journal entry:  The customer reviews of this thing, particularly the first episode of the first season, all have one thing in common.  They say the show is "graphic."  Some of them like the show; some of them would like the show were it not for the graphic depictions of violence.  But like it or hate it, everyone says it is hard-core.  I give you a few select quotes:  "It was much more graphically disgusting than I wanted."  "Other series have handled these types of plots without lingering shots of the brutal acts."  " ... it may cross over the edge for some viewers."  "Yes, it is graphic at times."  "If you don't like Graphic, you won't like this."  "British sense of graphic depiction ...."  And that's just culled from the first page of reviews.

I got a little worried.  I mean, nice taut thrillers are one thing, but I don't really dig graphic depictions of violence.  Films in the same genre as, say, "Saw" or "Hostel" are way not for me.  I realize some people go in for that sort of thing, but ... no.  So, with the netflix community all telling me that this was going to be (to quote the first review one reads) "hardcore" and "could make one vomit," it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I added this thing to my queue.  The DVD arrived and I made of point of watching it with the lights on.

Result:  Not graphic.  Not remotely graphic.  Actually went out of its way to be not at all graphic, considering the subject matter.  For a minute there, I was wondering if I'd received some "edited for wussy American viewers" disc, but no.

Let me explain.  Our first serial killer likes to torture people.  And I'm using the word "torture" in an "old school" sort of way.  Rack.  Judas Chair.  That sort of thing.  These are items which are, by their very nature, unpleasant.  Seriously.  Just reading a description of how these devices worked makes you really question humans as a species, given that we could come up with these sorts of ideas as things to do to our fellow humans. 

Thing is -- what you get on the show is, for lack of a better phrase, a visual description of said items.  You see the killer building the Judas Chair.  You see the killer putting his victim in said chair.  You see a close-up of the victim's face as he screams.  You ultimately see the victim's body when discovered dumped thereafter.  What do you not see?  The graphic depiction of the Judas Chair in action.  In fact, our serial killer videotapes his victims and sends the tapes to the police.  So, you're watching the tape of the victim as the killer prepares to torture him, but right when it's going to pull back from his face and actually show you the guy being tortured, it actually (I am not making this up) replaces the image with a digitized green line-drawing computer simulation of a dude being tortured, rather than the actual dude being tortured.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I felt cheated by not having to watch a guy being tortured.  But when everyone warned me of "graphic" depictions of violence, I really don't think they were referring to "computer graphic" depictions of violence.

Point is:  The people making this show went to an awful lot of effort to not show me blood spurting, bonesbreaking, limbs dislocating, bodies being mutilated, and all the other disgusting things that go along with someone being tortured to death -- and yet, it seems like nearly everyone who watches it thinks they saw it anyway.

I find this remarkable.  (Which is why I'm remarking on it.)  Watch a killer slowly build a torture device, cut to the victim's face as he screams and your mind fills in the blanks for you.  You're no idiot.  You know what's going on without seeing it, and your brain is so grossed out by the very concept, you walk away thinking that you've seen the imagery itself, although you really haven't.  You're an active participant in freaking yourself out. 

And the fact that so many viewers are so sure that they saw lingering graphic depictions of brutality when they really didn't is testament to how freakin' brilliant "Wire in the Blood" is as the thriller it's meant to be.  Not to mention a fairly accurate demonstration of its thesis of how damn powerful a tool the mind really is.