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If trailers told the truth

So I was sitting through another really, very bad movie, and I wondered: what if the movie trailers were honest with us? What if they told us, right up front, how little value the film had? It’s a bold concept, I know – but it would be worth arriving early to the theater to sit through a trailer as honest as this:

“Some movies are just plain bad … and others are really FANCY bad!

Only a handful of American filmmakers could have made a film like this, and most of them died long ago of preventable social diseases.

Some movies are a pointless waste of time … while others are a waste of time that makes a very good point indeed.

Monkey See, Monkey Don’t is such a film.

Never has a film meant so little to so many. Never has a film been so unapologetically, remorselessly, appallingly bad. Monkey See, Monkey Don’t sets the bar extremely low, and then crawls UNDER it.

Are you searching for a deeper meaning to the seemingly random violence and surreal plot twists that make up most of this film? You can stop looking RIGHT NOW.

It’s not just a bad, bad movie. It has the potential to be viewed as one of the great bad movies of all time. It’s a movie you will forget within moments of leaving the theater – and ISN’T THAT THE POINT??

Monkey See, Monkey Don’t – ignore it if you dare. It will not go away. It will gross more than anyone predicted, simply because it is so thoroughly unwatchable. Millions of Americans will fail to watch it many, many times. Some will rent the DVD, begin watching it, and then switch absent-mindedly to the Dog Whisperer—and NEVER EVEN NOTICE. Some will pay to get into the movie twice, because they won’t remember that they already sat through it once!

But only once in a lifetime comes a movie so relentlessly bad, it makes you wish the word “bad” had more “d’s” in it. It makes you question the whole film industry—and perhaps the very meaning of existence itself!

Monkey See, Monkey Don’t. See it. Or DON’T.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d have to see it. But then, my judgment about movies is somewhat skewed, especially if monkeys are involved. I guess that’s how I end up sitting through so many regrettable movies. In some cases, twice.


Can you hear me now? Wait, I’ll adjust my hat

Rushing through the airport, he held his cell phone to his head. His iPod bobbled in its belt-hook carrier, its earphone wires draping over his speeding back pockets. He kept glancing down at his Palm Pilot, frantically punching in numbers or text or something, perhaps scheduling his nervous breakdown (not next week, but March is starting to look good).

He seemed important. Communicative, too. He was Modern Man, handling his daily communication in an impressively high-tech way.

Here’s a spooky modern moment: You’re in church and the minister asks the congregation to “turn off their electronic devices.” Suddenly the sanctuary becomes filled with celestial musical, but it’s not the angel choir — it’s the soft beeps and boops and various songs of cell phone providers signing off.

Back in the day, we didn’t have the ability to interrupt a public event by receiving a text message that reads “Going 2 eat, back l8ter.” Our phones were connected to the wall by a long, curly cord. Sometimes the person you were talking to would drop the receiver and it would dangle by its curly cord, tapping against the wall, until he retrieved it. Today’s youth will grow up never knowing that sound.

Some day, we’ll have to start consolidating all the communication devices we use. Maybe engineers will develop a one-piece helmet-like thing we can wear with all our devices built in. I’d want mine to have built-in sunglasses.

Or maybe science will invent an artificial ear that has those communication devices built in, and rich people will all have one ear removed and replaced with a silver ear that contains their cell phones and etc. Bluetooth capable, of couse. That would look cool.

Or maybe we’ll all have an actual blue tooth, replacing a low-functioning molar, so we can walk down the street talking to our own teeth and it will be even harder to distinguish the delusional stranger from the regular stranger.

OK, it’s admittedly sci-fi. But 20 years ago, would you have envisioned downloading music off a laptop computer to a finger-sized mp3 player? I think not. Especially when you remember that computers were still about the size of minivans back then, and your thumb drive was a transistor radio.

We still have radios, and I believe we always will, because they’re so minimal-tech, and they have all that free music and right-wing rhetoric pouring out. Plus, you have to listen to something while you drive when you’ve scratched your favorite Santana CD and can’t reach anyone on your cell phone.

But I’ll bet there are engineers are at work on the Communication Helmet, a device that will consolidate our cell phones, palm pilots, blueberries, walkie-talkies, mp3 players, TV remote controls, and whatever other electronic devices they invent in the meantime.

For now, I’d be happy if they would just invent a universal way to recharge them all.

Pssst: Your motivational whisper is calling

I’m not just surfing the internet — I’m influencing my mind!

As I delete emails promising to increase the size of my organ and refinance my mortgage, I’m also listening to the reassuring background sounds of rain, distant thunder, and … someone saying something. These are my new subliminal downloads. They have a seemingly innocent nature soundtrack that covers up a much, much softer soundtrack of a human voice saying positive things.

The idea is that, if I tell you to lose weight, you might tell me to go to hell. But if someone whispers to you to lose weight, you aren’t even aware that you’ve heard them, and you might just choose a vigorous walk instead of a leisurely waffle cone. Maybe.

My downloads were of the “buy two, get one free” variety. So I chose Lose Weight Fast! and Boost Your Self-Confidence!-and, for my freebie, Attract Wealth and Success! All the titles come pre-exclaimed.

The first night I played the weight loss download, my husband said, “Wait a minute … I think I just heard someone whisper the word ‘carrot.’ ”

And in fact, if you turn these things up really loud, you CAN hear someone mumbling. It’s eerie, like those ominous incantations that went on in the apartment next door to Rosemary’s Baby. Is it Latin? Is it about vegetables? The problem is, I don’t really know. There’s no list anywhere to tell me exactly what I’m listening to back there behind the pitter patter and the distant thunder. They might be telling me to avoid gravy or to blow up my neighbor’s garage.

You have already heard subliminals, if you’ve ever shopped in a major grocery story chain. That canned music that’s always playing – drowsy instrumental renditions of old Rolling Stones songs performed by a studio orchestra – also includes subliminal messages urging you to buy more and shoplift less.  My daughter used to sing along with the loudspeaker in our local grocery store when it played Bonnie Raitt, Muzak style: “I can’t make you love me … don’t steal gra-a-apes.”

Because I chose such vague goals, I don’t know if my downloads are even working. Some days I’m all celery sticks and rice cakes; other days, I still want to deep fry a couple of Snickers bars and then fall asleep gnawing on a block of cheese. Are the subliminal messages failing me? It’s hard to tell. I’m not reflecting a lot of weight loss, confidence or success yet, it’s true, but these things take time. They’re subliminal recordings, not miracles.

If I’d ordered downloads that were easy to test, like “Remember Your Multiplication Tables!” or “Speak Fluent Swahili!” I wouldn’t have to keep checking the scale and the bank account for results.

However, I’m confident they will work. I can make them work. I can do anything. No task is too great for me … pitter patter … rumble … carrot …


How to get a Palmetto bug out of your hair

Palmetto bugs are 2-inch, nightmarish, spawn-of-Hell roaches that thrive in most parts of the South. There, the warmth and humidity make them grow as big and strong as the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, which some people–I can’t imagine which people–keep as pets.

If you live down here in Florida, when you pick up a towel or item of clothing, you have to shake the item vigorously, to dislodge any Palmetto bugs napping within. You also have to keep one eye on the ceiling, because they love to walk upside down and then freefall onto your dinner plate — or your head.

If a Palmetto bug lands in your hair, try not to panic. Do not squish the bug, which will result in a repeated urge to retch. For you, not the bug. The proper way to remove a Palmetto bug from your hair is:

  1. Shriek as loudly as you can, to alert others nearby of your situation. They won’t be able to help, but they will find it amusing and kid you about it later.
  2. While shrieking, bat at your hair. Use your flat palms to brush the front of your hair down over your face and keep whacking at it with one hand after the other.
  3. Run about blindly, with hair in your eyes. Crash into things. Continue to shriek. Occasionally beg for help from your laughing colleagues.
  4. Scream, “Can you see it? Is it still in my hair?” but don’t hold still long enough for anyone to inspect your hair.
  5. Bend over and shake your head upside down, clawing at your hair. Shriek louder when you think you feel the bug crawl up your arm.
  6. Run to the bathroom mirror and stare at your panic-stricken face, searching for signs of insect life. Hear your colleagues tell you the bug fell off several minutes ago, but don’t listen.
  7. Tear off your clothes and jump into the shower; stand under the running water, sobbing.
  8. Somewhere in mid-shower, realize that Palmetto bug is indeed gone. Wash your hair anyway. Grab towel off rack and begin to dry hair as you leave the bathroom.
  9. Realize there was a Palmetto bug in the towel on the rack.
  10. Repeat from Step 1.


Sparkling over the hill

I just bought a lip pencil with glitter in it, sparking a bit of a midlife crisis.

I only bought the lip pencil because I wanted something that was (a) really portable,  so that I’d have it handy whenever I felt a little too pale, and (b) really, really cheap. I found it in the part of the makeup aisle where they have the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen cosmetics, which should have given me a clue.

I decided in the car that I was a little too pale, so I opened it up and swept it across my upper lip. Bling! That was the lip pencil, which is impregnated with tiny bits of something really sparkly. I don’t need that. I know that we basically end up eating our lipsticks anyway– not out of the tube but one lip-lick at a time — and I don’t think I need any additional titanium dioxide (or whatever) in my diet.

The new lip pencil went into the bag of stuff I set aside for my daughter. It went in there with the top I bought that turned out to look too young, the CD I thought I’d like that turned out to be too young, and the hair color that turned out to look too young.

Perhaps you notice a pattern.

I’m a “woman of a certain age” now, perhaps, but not old enough to use a Jitterbug phone. In fact, I made my kids promise me that, should I ever need a Jitterbug phone, they are to put one in a sock and beat me over the head with it until I die.

I may be Red Hat age now, but I refuse to actually buy the hat. I first saw the Red Hat merchandise on the same day a shoe salesman suggested a pair of lace-up, sturdy, cushiony oxford shoes for me. It was not a good day. Then a Red Hat tote bag turned up in my pile of birthday gifts a few weeks later. I thanked the giver, a Red Hat-age woman herself, and put the bag way in the back of the closet. Then I filled it with things to give to Goodwill and gave it away.

My daughter, whom I birthed just a week before my 30th birthday, says this could be the best time of my life. They said that to me when I was a teen, too, and they were wrong both times. I think this is something she picked up in her Developmental Psyc class, but I listen patiently.

“Mom, your kids are grown, and you’re still young and healthy. You can do anything now.”

Actually, SHE can do anything now. I can only do the things I’ve been doing all my life, and I’m struggling to do them as well as I once did. I’ve begun to fear looking ridiculous, again (after giving up that fear years ago). I fear looking like someone who doesn’t realize that she’s no longer young, who won’t admit she needs the Jitterbug phone now.

My greatest fear now is not that I’m getting old and will die. It’s that I won’t find true happiness until 10 minutes before I die. Then I’ll get distracted by something on television and miss the whole thing.

When I die, and I know I will, I’ll do it gracefully. But if I have to go, I’m going out with dignity–without a Red Hat and sparkly lips.

Running away from bad store signs

I saw a hand-painted store sign today that proclaimed: “American Owned and Runned.”

I’m sorry, the buzzer sounded on that one. At first glance, it’s offensive – and then it’s inscrutable.

Are they reassuring me the store is not run by the Soviet KGB? Are they saying the store is operated by someone especially native, like an Eskimo?

My grandpa came over through Ellis Island wearing wooden shoes. Luckily, he was Dutch, so it didn’t look that odd. And then, after he got here, he was an American, right? Just like your grandpa, and every­body’s grandpa? So don’t give me that “us and them” non­sense.

And Mr. Sign Painter, whatever you’re trying to say, that grammar doesn’t strengthen your case.

The judges might have ac­cepted “American owned and ran,” because syntax notwith­standing, “ran” is at least an ac­tual word.

I can just picture the two guys who own that store, as the paint was drying.

One Guy: “I don’t know. It just doesn’t sound past tensey enough for me.”

Other Guy: “Well just add another ‘-ed’. That’s what I’ve always doned.”

Maybe the sign painters were just trying to be proud of their country.

We saw a lot of this in 2001. My way of coping with the weeks af­ter 9/11 was to photograph store signs that referred to the trage­dy. Store owners wanted to con­vey their patriotism, but they also wanted to ask passersby to, for heaven’s sake, please spend some money.

So we got the ironies of a Valparaiso Taco Bell sign that said: “God Bless America, Keep On Shopping” and a Merrillville diner with “Land of the Free, Polish Sausage $2” and a Lafayette restaurant with “United We Stand, Plenty of Seating Inside.”

Some day I’ll publish these photos in a coffee table book and it will become Americana.

As someone who compulsive­ly (some would say obsessively) reads everything, signs enter­tain me as I travel the nation’s byways. One of my favorite signs was one I passed every day on a long commute from Ham­mond to Valpo.  It was on the road adjacent to a farm, and it said, simply, “HAY.”

Each day as I drove by, I’d say back to it, “HEY!” It was a great example of woman-to-farm communication at its most elemental.

My current favorite sign is outside a car dealership that shall remain anonymous. In big red lights, it says, “Limited Time Ends Soon.” I suppose this refers to some sort of sale, but I like to think of its more Zen pos­sibilities.

Limited time does end soon, doesn’t it? And of course, unlimited time would end … much, much later.

So maybe that sign is urging us, the driving millions, to stop and smell the new car interiors. To Carpe Diem (which I believe is Latin for “Seize the fish!”)

Maybe it’s trying to say we should accept rather than ex­clude each other, and notice that life is short but beautiful, and not waste a single moment of it in a drowsy, hate-filled fog.

Lest we find that we have runned out of time.

Stages of algebra acceptance

If you’ve returned to college as an adult, you can expect to go through the following stages concerning your mathematics requirement:

Denial: “What do you mean I have to take College Algebra again? What do you mean I have to start with high school algebra, because I don’t remember enough to do college algebra? This can’t be happening to me! Nooooooo …”

Anger: “Stupid requirements! Stupid school! Damn them, damn the whole math department to hell!

Bargaining: “Tell you what … I’ll take three English classes if you’ll let me get credit for one math. I’ll volunteer to teach writing to students. I’ll sweep the hallways. I’ll do … almost anything. Seriously, Mr. Department Head. Just tell me what you want.”

Depression: “This is the worst. I have forgotten how to multiply fractions. I’ll never make it through this class. I’m doomed. Doomishly doomed. I’m inventing new adjectives for how doomed I am. I want ice cream.”

Acceptance: “Well … the first class wasn’t so hard. Maybe I can pass this. And then it will be behind me. I’ll get through this. I need a beer.”

Giddiness: “I got a 98 on the first test! Ah, that was supposed to be a negative sign instead of a positive sign. But still, 98! Wait until I tell my family!

Anger Again: “Excuse me … isn’t this an example of the commutative property of addition? You marked it wrong on my test. Oh, they wanted only two letters in the answer. I see. Who are ‘they,’ anyway? (I will hunt them down and demonstrate the commutative property of their facial features).”

Remorse: “I shouldn’t have argued with my teacher. Nobody argues about math grades. Math is so … non-subjective. Now he’ll be extra hard on me. What was I thinking?”

Camraderie: “Hey, you’re in Bonehead Math? Me, too! No, just joking! I mean, it’s not a bonehead class-I’m in it, and I used to think of myself as smart! Hahaha! It’s great, huh? No, seriously, it’s terrible. I hate it so much! Hey, what’d you get for number 14?”

Jealousy:  “Yes! I got an 89! That’s pretty good. Wait! That woman over there got a 100! What the heck! She remembers every single negative sign? Who does she think she is? And her hair is better than mine, too …”

Ennui: “Math class again today. Yeah. Whatever.”

Terror: “You didn’t get my homework assignment? I swear I left it on your desk Monday, right at the end of class. Can I turn it in next week? No? (Oh, God. This is the same mistake I made in First Grade, stuffing my assignments in my desk instead of turning them in. I haven’t grown up at all!) I’m sure I turned it in. Check again, will you? Thanks. (You fault-finding bastard).”

Joy: “Mid-term report says I’m getting an A. Despite that homework debacle. An A! And I thought I might not even pass! An A! An A! A! A! A!”

Pride: “I’m good at this. I know how to factor polynomials now. I can factor the HELL out of a polynomial. I factor like the wind! Like nobody’s business! Damned right!”

Denial Again: “The train crossing is blocked? But my math final starts in 10 minutes! I can’t turn around! This can’t be happening to me! Arrghhhhh…”

Anger Again: “Don’t they know there’s a junior college on the other side of these tracks? I mean, like 10,000 students cross these tracks every day. And this stupid train isn’t even moving! Maybe if I throw a rock at it …”

Bargaining Again:  “Oh Heavenly Father … if you let me get across these train tracks within the next two minutes, so I make it to class in time for the start of the test, I promise to give up all my worldly goods and practice patience and humility. Amen.”

Redemption: “Yes! I can see the train graffiti shifting slowly to the left! If it clears the tracks within the next 30 seconds, and I drive at 55 mph the rest of the way, and run the red light and park in the handicapped spot, I will get there in time.”

Creativity: “I’m going to sharpen my pencils with my left hand while I drive with my right hand, so I’ll be ready to start calculating the minute I walk in the door.”

Acceptance Again: “OK, I finished the test. I double-checked my answers, especially those damned negative signs. Now it’s in the hands of Fate.”

Insincerity:  “Mr. Teacher? I just wanted you to know, before you grade my final, that your explanation about the point-slope intercept … truly moved me. I’m thinking of a career in mathematics now (unless I’m given the option of jabbing myself in the eye with this sharp pencil instead.)”

Closure:  “OK, I finished with a B-plus. That’s a pretty good grade for a tough class. It was a high-school level class, sure, but it was tough. For me. Because I’m an idiot. At least my long, mathematical nightmare is over. I need a beer.”

Denial: “This can’t be right! I have to take THREE more math classes to graduate?