Waitress, On Reflection

Adrienne Shelley’s Waitress has been on cable quite a bit, and I’ve had a chance to re-view it.

When it first came out, Althouse hated it. I think I even put off seeing it for weeks on that basis.

I realize now, Althouse and I do not have anything like comparable movie tastes. (For example, I’ve given a cursory view to Across The Universe, and found it vaguely offensive, despite the music.)

Anyway, I liked the movie when I first saw it, and I like it more on re-view. It’s stylized: deliberately placed out of time and a fairy tale situation, in the sense that the characters are all placed in their situations without much concern for how they got there.

What I find weird was Althouse–and others–assertion that this was a man-loathing movie. Yet, in the end, all the characters are flawed, and the only really bad man is Jeremy Sisto’s creepily played Earl. Indeed, one of the most despicable characters in movie history.

In fact, the lead character–whose view colors everything in the movie–goes from seeing men as bullies and ogres, and comes to see them as human as her girlfriends.

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the view that movies–particularly female-centered ones–portray men badly, as villains, etc. But that just doesn’t apply here. About the only characters who don’t show off severe flaws are Dawn and Ogie, with Dawn being rather insecure and Ogie being…a little intense.

IMDB has this at 7.4 which is maybe a hair low for the current curve (maybe a 7.6). I’m a bit surprised by the number of comments I’ve read that are so severely judgmental. I sort of come away from this film thinking, “Well, we all make mistakes, and the idea is that we should correct them and move on, and also not be too severe about others mistakes.” It’s such a non-controversial concept (“Lord’s Prayer” anyone?), I’m surprised at how many people approach this from the viewpoint that the main character should be pilloried.

Anyway, Adrienne Shelly was just cute as a bug’s ear, to boot. And her tragic death should not go unobserved. Fortunately, it hasn’t.

It’s not a tax…it’s redemption!

I went out and bought some soda and some water.

The purchase price was $8.48.
The sales tax was $0.42.
The “California Redemption Value” was $1.80.

So, I paid 25% over the price of what I bought in taxes. This is the problem with “use-based taxes”. They look good on the surface, but they just turn into another source of revenue for the state, and even make the tax look righteous.

Even when it’s all…hokum.

What’s worse is that–according to what I’ve heard–the blue bins that the state collects the recycling in were basically formulated to stop the homeless from collecting and doing the recycling themselves. In other words, we took something that gave the least fortunate members of society a way to make money through honest labor and cost the taxpayers nothing–and turned it into something that the government does (and loses money at, at the city level).

All I’m really wondering, though, is what happens to that 0.42? Why isn’t that enough to do what needs to be done, rather than tripling it?

Why is it these clowns always have money for mansions, and never for roads?

The Halloween Season Is About To Begin

Not for retailers. They started a month ago, around the time of back-to-school specials.

But for us! Since The Boy was two (and a few years before that), we’ve gone to Knott’s “Scary” Farm for Halloween. The Flower has gone since she was five. I’d probably take The Barbarienne this year but I’m afraid she’d hurt the monsters.

The Knott’s Halloween Haunt is kind of a Southern California tradition, being the oldest transformation of a park for Halloween in the area. (Disneyland just started theirs recently, on the scale of things.)

There are ten walk-through mazes, and two rides typically get turned into mazes (the mine ride and the log ride, which are relatively slow). Sometimes they also turn the dinosaur ride. On top of that, they have hundreds of monsters trolling the park terrorizing guests.

I knew The Boy would like it early on, though it’s not for most toddlers. He’s always identified with monsters. The Haunt typically hires some 6 ½ foot guy to be a yeti. On The Boy’s first year, he sees this giant yeti approach him, looked up, and gave him a big hug.

The Flower is less sanguine but, oh, the monsters love her. Last year, a werewolf grilled her for about fifteen minutes about going to grandmother’s house and an evil clown tried to take her own. Sometimes she decides she’s going to run–which the monsters love–but since she knows not to run away from me, she ends up running in circles with the monster chasing her around and around.

It’s actually not tricky taking the kids to an event like this. You just have to watch carefully and not push them past their comfort zone. And, of course, you have to not take the kid who won’t enjoy it under any circumstances. If not for The Boy, I doubt The Flower would be so brave. But she knows both that it’s made-up and that we’ll protect her. Also, she worships him, so she wants to do whatever he does.

Last year, I made the mistake of taking her on the log flume, which is very, very mild but for some reason disturbs The Flower (and did The Boy, too, when he was younger, even as he’d ride a super-violent roller coaster). This year she thought about not coming, but it turned out it was just about getting my assurance she wouldn’t have to ride it.

The big trick to doing this, though, is to avoid the crowds. “But, Blake,” you say, “amusement parks are always crowded, especially Halloween events.”

To which I reply, “That’s why you go on the first day. It’s September, nobody’s thinking about going to a Halloween event. It’s also a Thursday, and nobody’s thinking about going to a park on a Thursday night.”

We do every maze, some of them more than once, and still have time to eat, play a few games, do some shopping–whatever the kids want. Then we crash at the hotel and go home the next morning after breakfast.

And when it’s all over, we come home and plan the decorations for the house and the Halloween party.

It’s very Norman Rockwell, only with lots of latex and blood.

Site Reorientation!

Lately, people have been coming here for the treadmill desk posts, so I feel like I should play to that audience.

Problem is, I’ve never been able to form a cohesive “lifestyle”. You ever notice that? Everybody who hawks a book on exercise or diet, talks about “lifestyle”. (As Carlin used to say, “Genghis Khan had an active outdoor lifestyle.”)

I’m just a guy walkin’ on a treadmill. I don’t go to meetings to talk about the treadmill-desk lifestyle. I don’t know anybody else who does this, and don’t really care to. I mean, I wouldn’t object if someone I knew did it. (“The treadmill-desk is my bit! We’re through!”) But I don’t seek an overarching theme or purpose or motif in my life.

So I’m going to probably let you treadmill-desk enthusiasts down, just as I do the pointy-breast seekers.

But I will field any treadmill-desk questions you might have. (I’ll field any breast questions you have, too, but I’m unlikely to have any significant insight on that subject.)

And someday maybe we can all get together and not walk somewhere.

On The Importance of Being Earnest

Not the Oscar Wilde play but the actual importance of being earnest.

I was thinking about why I find Ed Wood watchable. And then about how I find the blaxploitation flicks of the ‘70s so entertaining.

And I think it sums up as: earnestness.

Earnestness is the opposite of camp, snark, irony, hipness. It’s meaning what you say, without regard for triteness or unintentional humor. It takes a kind of courage to be earnest, and a particularly in this post-modern era of deconstruction and over analysis.

One could, were one so inclined, analyze the national election in terms of earnestness versus camp. You might say the Reps tend to favor earnest candidates suspiciously, while the Dems earnestly favor hip candidates. But I won’t say that here.

Earnestness, of course, is no guarantee of quality, as Mr. Wood, Jr., clearly illustrated, along with the dialogue of the ’70s flicks about “the Man” and white and black prejudice. But it’s almost always entertaining, if not in the way the creators intended.

The original Evil Dead, for example, has many moments of unintended comedy mixed in with some truly scary moments, reflecting Sam Raimi’s youth and intensity. By contrast, Spider-Man 2 has a few scary moments that Raimi cribbed directly from his earlier film, and which are almost intense enough to push the movie into R territory.

We see from these two films, that it is possible to maintain earnestness even while raising quality. The second Spiderman movie is probably Raimi’s masterpiece, completely committed while technically brilliant.

But very often, earnestness is lost in the perfection of craft. I like Spielberg, and am not inclined to bashing him, but I think since about Saving Private Ryan, he’s lost a lot of the earnestness he used to have making popcorn movies. (He even mentions it in reference to Jurassic Park 2. His heart just wasn’t in it.)

Earnestness can become strident proselytizing, too. When I consider Plan 9 From Outer Space, with its message of non-nuclear proliferation (or…non-solarinite proliferation), I see a movie that’s a movie first, where the message of peril is meant to give some underlying resonance to the story, rather than a story dedicated to pushing that message. And I’d still rather watch it than The Constant Gardener or any of the anti-Iraq movies that have emerged in the past five years, regardless of “quality”.

Religious movies can fall into the same trap, of course. But you don’t get many religious mainstream movies these days.

I’m not a big Peter Jackson fan, but he kept the snark out of Lord of the Rings. You can’t do “epic” without earnestness: Things have to matter, while the whole of being hip, cool and camp is that nothing matters–and very often that nothing is really very good. Or, rather ironically, that “very good” = “very easy”. (That’s a kind of modern art conceit: You can’t write a song in C or make a representational painting like the old masters. That would be too easy.)

Earnestness, like being plainspoken, reveals how we actually feel and think, of course.

This requires a degree of vulnerability.

Which, in turn, is what makes art dangerous to create and even, in a way, to enjoy.

Treadmill Desk, Day 26

230 minutes so far today. (UPDATE: 270 minutes by the end of the day.) I’m posting at 7PM so I might get some more time in before the night is up. But since Althouse posted on the treadmill desk, I thought I’d summarize my experience to date. (For those of you just joining in, this is day 26 since I “got serious”. I actually did over three weeks of a trial, and then reset the counter when my new treadmill arrived. So I’ve been doing this for 2 months now.)

I’ve been detailing my trek on my blog under keyword [sic] “treadmill desk”. But rather than make you go through that, I’ll spell out my strategy:

1. Buy a cheap treadmill–I mean, really cheap (
2. Fiddle with the height of the board by stacking books underneath. (Some people carve wood rests or what have you, but I have no talent in that area, plus I kind of like the “change on a whim” feel. What seems good today may not tomorrow.)

3. Give it a try for several weeks. Try to run through all your daily tasks, including the ones tht require the greatest concentration and steadiest hands. If you can only do 90% of your work while walking, make sure you have a way to do that other 10% without disrupting things too much.

4. While you’re doing this, note the issues you’re having so that when the time comes for a better treadmill, you’ll know exactly what you want.

In my case, my cheap ($50) treadmill overheated, which forced my hand to buying a new one sooner than I would’ve liked. I had a hard time running it for more than an hour. It was also really loud and really hot. I finally went with a new Sole machine that gets put into hotels, with a two year warranty. Very quiet, doesn’t seem to radiate heat.

My big mistakes were: pushing myself to hit the eight hour mark as soon as possible, which resulted in a lot of stiffness that wouldn’t have occurred had I built up more slowly; also, I didn’t wear shoes at all at first, though I’m not sure if that would have been such a big deal had I not forced myself to the eight hour mark.

The benefits have been that a stiffness in my ankles and feet that had been building for years has almost completely gone away in the past two months. I don’t find myself imbued with lots of energy that others seem to have–at least not yet–but one doesn’t fall asleep at a treadmill desk, either.

I haven’t been tracking my weight, particularly, so I can’t speak to that. It has improved my appetite, however.


Finally, at long last, Duckman is available on DVD!

I’ve mentioned the show before–I thought including the fact that there was no legal way to buy the series, you had to give money to bootleggers, but if I did, I can’t find that post.

Jason Alexander plays Duckman, a widowed, incompetent, skirt-chasing detective in a world that is a mixture of humans and anthropomorphized animals, sort-of trying to raise his family (a big dumb kid named Ajax, voiced by Dweezil Zappa and his conjoined genius twin sons voiced, originally, by the late Dana Hill and the always marvellous E.G. Daly).

It’s kind of a super-dysfunctional, depressing extension of “The Simpson’s”. In fact, Klasky-Csupo, the original Simpsons animators, created “Duckman”. Imagine Marge dying on Homer, and Patty and Selma moving in, and you’ve got a start. Also, imagine Springfield as a more realistic, gritty, big city where almost everyone is selfish, greedy, short-sighted and cruel.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

And yet, for me, this series truly worked. If you look at Homer Simpson, the engine that drives that groundbreaking television show, you see a person who’s really rather despicable. He’s stupid, mean, greedy, lazy, violent and on and on and on. He’s not only dangerous when he means well, he often just plain doesn’t mean well. Yet beyond the brilliant writing of the early years, it must be confessed that the show succeeds because we identify with homer.

We identify with his flaws and appreciate his redemption through his approximately once-per-episode acts of love. And we’re hopeful that others can see the good in us, despite our flaws, and find something like the love Homer gets from Marge or Lisa and Maggie, or even Bart. (One of the reasons the show has gotten stale is that it’s harder to believe in redemption when nothing changes, and the show has played out its own staticness both as humor and meta-humor.)

“Duckman” goes further. Duckman is driven by selfish short-sighted lust and avarice, much like Homer, and his redemption is much smaller and more fleeting. Duckman’s world is darker: Unlike the sort of patchwork, plot-convenient history of “The Simpsons”, Duckman’s history is part of his makeup. He was started down the road to debauchery by his flighty, cruel mother.

By the time he’s in high school, he’s become enough of a tormenter himself to create an arch-rival: King Chicken (voiced by Tim Curry!).

As an adult, he’s locked in a depraved downward spiral until he meets his wife Beatrice, one of the few truly pure characters of the show.

When she dies (before the series starts), he continues his descent into boozing, floozing, and generally being a jerk.

And yet.

The world is the much bigger jerk. While Duckman brings his problems on himself, it has to be said that the world is gamed against him. Parking laws so convoluted no one can read them. Taxes. Obsessive neighbors. Vacuous celebrities.

Any reform he tries is met with a big smackdown by the universe. Whereas Homer is just lazy, Duckman has the character to fight against the machine. He just doesn’t have the wherewithal, physically, financially or psychically to win, nor even to survive a brush with life’s many irrational obstacles in tact.

At a time when it was actually pretty edgy, Duckman was relentlessly politically incorrect, and the show never missed an opportunity to have a ridiculously over-endowed sex kitten giggling over some lurid double-entendre.

Jason Alexander’s broad voice work does the trick here. Whether happy or raving or depressed or afraid (Duckman’s signature yell is “Dwaaaaaaaaa!”) Alexander makes this the performance of his career. (Duckman is far more lovable than George Costanza.)

I was pleased to see that he’s listed on the special features, since back 10+ years ago or so, when there was supposed to be a Duckman game, he stopped it because the voice was so wearing. (Which may be code for “give me more money”, but either way the game was killed.)

The series ended on a damned cliffhanger, too, but perhaps the series DVDs might spur some interest in a movie that could provide some closure.

Others in the standout cast include Greg Berger as the incredibly deep-voiced Cornfed Pig, the Watson to Duckman’s Holmes, except that he’s super-smart, competent in a wide-range of fields, and a virgin. Nancy Travis plays Duckman’s sweet wife Beatrice in a couple of episodes, but primarily is the voice of the ultimate harridan Bernice, her sister. Ben Stein is the insufferable PhD neighbor who can’t help but constantly remind everyone he’s a PhD.

Guest stars included John Astin and Bobcat Goldthwait as recurring characters, and an assortment of oddities from Courtney Thorne-Smith playing herself to Maureen McGovern as the singing voice of Ajax.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend this to everyone. It’s just too sleazy, too cynical, too dark. (Of course, I couldn’t recommend a non-sleazy, uncynical, light movie for everyone either.)

But I recommend it for me. And can’t wait to pick it up!

On Frozen Yogurt and Other Endangered Foods

In this post on the novel I’m writing in November, 1jpb links to ZPS’s blog entry on Penguin’s Frozen Yogurt.

Penguin’s used to be everywhere. Now they’re not. ZPS wonders why.

I discussed this phenomenon with a savvy investor person not as related to Penguin’s, but as it related to Boston Market. He pointed out that there are very good financial reasons to hyperinflate a company until it bursts–provided you know how to get out before it actually does so.

This happens a lot. Not just with trendy foods, because yogurt was pretty trendy and it’s reasonable to think that any given food trend will pass, as it did with cajun and with–well, does anyone remember the chocolate chip cookie boutique days? That predated yogurt a bit.

So, there perhaps aren’t as many Mrs. Fields as there used to be because of some financial shenanigans–but there are still some cookie boutiques. Same with Penguin’s and frozen yogurt. I don’t know of an equivalent to Boston Market, at least around here, but we seem to have trouble supporting “American food” here. No more Roger’s Roasters, but plenty of chicken places. Salad bars seem to have mostly vanished, to be replaced by buffets, which I suppose are mostly “American food”. (Though the salad bar places used to be pretty high quality, more upscale for a place that made you get your own food, and the buffets seem to be decidedly low rent.) The Sizzler adapted itself a couple of times, including into and out of the “salad bar” phase, though I think it’s finally gone for good.

Bob’s Big Boy–and going back a ways, The Copper Penny (I think that was just local) and Sambo’s, and more recently, Baker’s Square and Coco’s: All American diner’s that used to be everywhere and now aren’t.

The upshot is that there are foods that you used to be able to get and now can’t, or can’t easily. This is a sign of impending old age.

Most of the foods that I like that no longer exist were not from big chains but from little mom & pop shops that went away. Spaghetti from Mike’s Pizza (in Encino or Panorama City), a Pageburger Club from Page’s (Encino), A Poor Boy Pizza from Jo Mama’s (Burbank) or a carob shake from a little shack outside an arcade in Westwood.

The carob shake was insidious. You’d drink a little bit and not like it. But then you’d drink a little more. And by the time you got to the bottom, you were hooked. It was sweet, but a little bitter as well.

Anyway, whaat do you think about remembering lost foods, lost loves, lost places? I tend to think one should severely restrict it, lest one end up sitting on a rocker on the porch, awash in the past, and telling the kids about the orange groves stretching out “as far as the eye can see”.

Education and Religion

I’ve maintained all along–and no one agrees with me–that education is an inherently religious and moral matter, and therefore the government really shouldn’t be involved at all.

The citizens of the country have strong motivation to educate their young, and to do so better than any bureaucracy ever could, so there’s no need being filled unless one accepts some arbitrary definition of what a good education is. (Which, of course, people do.)

But just for starters, in order to educate, you have to take a position about what it is you’re doing. And if you believe that children are animals that need to be trained, or automatons to be programmed, or spiritual beings to be communicated with, that choice is going to be reflected in your approach.

Does your local school look like a temple, a data center–or a zoo?

Make Blake Write A Book: Update

OK, I think I’ve worked out the setting for this book.

Contrary to my previous post, I’m not going to be discussing the setting here. There will be an element of mystery that I think will be more enjoyable if I don’t put all my cards on the table.

But so far, we know there will be three elements:

1. Barbarians
2. Sex
3. Western-type setting

Feel free to add more ideas in the comments. Even if they’re offbeat. I’ll consider it a challenge to work them into the story. (However, I reserve the right to adjust the amount and manner in which any idea or story element is incorporated, besides just rejecting outright. But I’ll try not to reject outright.)


4. Yogurt
5. Unicorns
6. Spaceships

Heh. Thanks to 1jpb and AJ Lynch for the new suggestions.