Archive for July, 2006

Sexual habits of dogs

July 29, 2006

My parents have two dogs. One female, one male. Both have had their sexual organs removed. Neither has ever shown the slightest sexual interest in the other.

The dogs are staying with me for a few nights while my folks are in West Virginia. As I write this, the male is licking his own genitals and the female is humping a giant teddy bear. Neither is more than four feet away from my desk.

Perhaps most disturbing is the nature of the humping. The dog clamps the stuffed animal’s nose in her jaws, drags it around, carefully positions it, and then and only then does the violation begin. I’ve asked, and apparently this is a nightly pre-sleep ritual.

I can’t help but think that something this inexplicable and unpleasant has to contain at least one nugget of wisdom to be extracted. Here’s the best I can manage: the next time you wish you could fall asleep without having to drink NyQuil or do breathing exercises or masturbate, be thankful that at least you don’t have to rape a stuffed bear.

…and they’ll screw you on capital gains

July 27, 2006

This morning’s Star-Ledger had a story about a Salvation Army employee who stole $385,000 from the organization over the course of many years.  It included the following quote:

“During questioning by the prosecutor, Brown agreed that he had actually embezzled $59,000 that year but never reported it.”

So apparently the IRS doesn’t care if you embezzle money, as long as they get their cut.

Life imitates art.  Or at least, life imitates Jennifer Love Hewitt movies.

I love nerds

July 26, 2006

The computer industry is fascinating to me, in great part because it was founded by hobbyists, and shaped by the personalities of a handful of moderately disturbed nerdy kids. Maybe all industries form that way; I don’t know. But this one is well documented.

A few days ago, I checked out Robert X. Cringely’s highly enjoyable book on the subject, Accidental Empires, from the library. I remembered how much I love nerds when I got to page 18, and noticed that whoever had read the book last had picked their nose and wiped what came out in the crease. (In the interest of precision, as much snot was on page 19 as 18). I say “whoever read the book last,” only because it looks reasonably fresh, but who can tell? The library’s copy is from 1992, so it’s possible that those are 14 year old nerd boogers, preserved by the temperature-controlled climate of the book stacks.

I’d like to share with you Cringely’s (what a great name) description of nerds:

“Nerds are expressive and precise in the extreme but only when they feel like it. They look the way they do as a deliberate statement about personal priorities, not because they’re lazy. Their mode of communication is so precise that they can seem almost unable to communicate. Call a nerd Mike when he calls himself Michael and he likely won’t answer, since you couldn’t possibly be talking to him.”

Am I wrong in thinking the world might be a good and happy place if only we would all aspire to such behavior?

Screenwriting is weird.

July 26, 2006

After years of studying this stuff, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of person desires to write something for which he will receive little or no credit, something that will be tampered with by people who may or may not know what they’re doing, something that will never be read in its pure form. Because it has no pure form. A screenplay is an ugly, ungodly thing, evolved from decades of production necessity and arbitrary standards. When I interned for ContentFilm and read several scripts a day, I used to look forward to the ones with coffee stains, because that at least improved the aesthetic quality. I read them because I had to. But no one really wants to read them.

And people want to write them.

Odd.

I’ve heard people suggest that I want to become a screenwriter to get laid. That’s an excellent reason to do anything, but novelists, poets and playwrights do better in that field. They can give lectures or readings or attend parties full of easily impressed, impressionable young women. Screenwriters can attend parties, but it probably isn’t worth it unless the dip is really good. Julian Fellowes has won a damn Oscar, but I bet people still ask him what happened to his tray of clam puffs.

Screenwriters could be in it for the money. But, Jesus, aren’t there easier ways of getting that? Like sending out one of those emails where you claim to be a Nigerian Prince who stumbled into a fortune? Or romancing old rich widows on the verge of death? (If the latter sounds harder to you than writing a screenplay, you probably haven’t written one. Or at least, not one worth worrying about.)

So I don’t know. Maybe we’re just like novelists but we’re too lazy to write all those blasted words. Maybe we’re just like playwrights but want our work to actually, you know, be seen, even if we don’t get any credit for it. Like those people who buy really good gifts even in a Secret Santa type setup.

Or maybe we really do want to be laid, but damn it, it’s Scarlett Johansson or nothing at all.

Clerks II

July 23, 2006

** 1/2
The original Clerks. was a landmark: a perfect delineation of a specific place and time that was also universal in its reach. We’ve all had McJobs at some point (low pay, no respect, no future). We all know what it’s like to be trampled on by bosses and customers and coworkers and girlfriends (frequently all in the same hour). And the only way many of us knew to get through the day was to babble about Star Wars and blow jobs. And then out comes Clerks. and there we are all on screen, standing for 16 straight hours in Dante’s boots. Some called the dialogue geeky, some called it obscene. I guess. That’s my generation. We’re all geeky. We’re all obscene. What do you expect of the first group of kids raised with VCRs and cable?

(Footnote: when I speak of “my generation” I tend to be speaking of people who are 5 to 10 years older than me. Somehow or other I identified with the grunge movement when I was 8 years old, and never quite recovered.)

Anyway, for whatever faults it had, Clerks. was still one of the important films of the 90s. Comforting to those of us who lived it; challenging for those to whom it was foreign.

Clerks II is nothing more or less than a good time at the movies. There are some very funny sequences, an impossibly charming performance from Rosario Dawson, and enough sap to choke a camel. The vulgarity comes off as posturing this time around, so it’s a good thing it’s funny. And I sort of wish there were more of it, because the film turns sentimental at the end, and suddenly Smith’s oft clever writing becomes a series of greeting card clichés.

Whatever emotional or societal resonance the flick might have is hampered by its loose, chaotic structure. While in the original, all the vignettes (no matter how disconnected) built to Dante’s meltdown, here many scenes get lost in the moment. There’s simply too much shit going on, and not enough actually happening. There’s also the issue of Dante. At 22, his inability to ever make up his mind was endearing. At 33, it’s a little pathetic. And without the original’s authenticity, Clerks II can’t even presume to speak for a subsection of society.

All that said, some scenes are quite funny (especially Wanda Sykes’s cameo), and there are a handful of poignant moments. Even as his writing ability regresses, Smith still has one thing going for him: he wants his audience to have a good time. It’s enough to recommend.

The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Done

July 20, 2006

…was to buy a Hyundai. I have no problem with the company, mind you. They’ve made pretty damn good cars for the past few years, with the best warranty you can find. The Accent, which is what I bought, even looks kind of cute.

But none of that matters when you buy a lemon.

This is an exceptionally long story, so I’ll do my best to keep it a reasonable length. It’s long, but it’s entertaining, in a Meet the Parents sort of way. To set the stage a bit: I was without a car throughout college. I simply didn’t need one at the time, and I don’t have the money or the patience for such a ridiculous machine unless it’s absolutely necessary. And now it is necessary because I’m moving to LA. Which is a really poorly planned city.

So I started searching. I didn’t have a job, so I searched every day. For hours, every day. For three weeks, for hours, every day.

And found nothing.

There was always a problem. This car had already sold, that car wasn’t for the price advertised, this other car’s VIN wasn’t clean, etc. Every day, a new problem.

So after three weeks of this, I find a car that checks out okay. My Hyundai. Clean VIN, it drives well, a mechanic said it looks to be in good shape. The guy selling it seemed a bit sleazy, but the car’s fine, so I bite. I’m tired of looking.

What follows is a much abbreviated chronology of the horrible events that followed:

June 15: Pay for car, get keys and title.

June 20: Attempt to register car. The DMV doesn’t like the way the reassignment forms are filled out. They look the dealer up and find out he’s had his NJ dealer’s license revoked. Apparently he had some tax trouble or something.

June 21: Dealer insists it’s all done right. He says they get nervous whenever there’s a stack of papers, and that I should try a different DMV office.

June 22: Against my better judgment, I try a different DMV office. Same result. Afterward, I demand my money back from the dealer. He agrees to meet me on the 24th with a cashier’s check.

June 23: Dealer calls, says he won’t have the money till the 27th. Says he already spent it.

June 27: Dealer calls, says he won’t have the money till the 4th. I bang my head against a wall. Dealer says he guarantees he can get me a clean Pennsylvania title if I bring it over there. It’s a choice between waiting a week for my money or trying to get the car in two days. And the car still seems fine.

June 29: Against my better judgment, I head to PA. But our meeting spot is underwater. The Delaware River flooded the night before. To its highest levels in 50 years. Or something. And Dealer doesn’t have a cell phone. Finally, I track him down, hours later. And spend all day with him going to notaries and DMVs and all sorts of shit. And he smells and is a racist and sexist and an idiot. But I end up with a clean PA title.

June 30: Try to register car in NJ again. Everything goes through okay, except they find a typo in their system during the VIN check.
“We can’t register this till we fix the typo,” they say.
So fix it.
“Only Trenton can fix typos.”
That’s ridiculous.
“But true.”
So call Trenton.
“Trenton is underwater.”
Oh.
“Come back Monday.”

June 31: The NJ government shuts down due to a budget crisis. I bang my head against a wall.

July 10: NJ government reopens 5 days later than anyone expected it to. Car gets re-titled and registered in under 10 minutes.

July 17: Car fails inspection. Apparently it has misfiring cylinders and a missing “Check Engine” light bulb.

July 18. Car’s under warranty, right? I go to a Hyundai dealer to get the problems fixed.
“Can’t do emissions here. We’re not registered to.”
It isn’t emissions.
“It’s under the emissions category of inspection.”
But it isn’t emissions.
“Sorry.”
I’d bang my head against a wall, but there aren’t any, so I bang my head against some Hyundais and get dragged off the lot.

July 20: Find a different Hyundai dealer that can do emissions work. They work for 4 hours and then tell me the cylinders aren’t misfiring. Huh? Oh, but there’s been significant hidden water damage, a few plugs are blown, the airbag module is missing (probably removed intentionally because – they assume – there’s no airbag), and the dashboard instrument panel has been tampered with. And the warranty is probably void ’cause of all the preventable damage. Oh boy. I bang my head against the mechanic, which wasn’t very nice, because he was just doing his job.

And that’s tonight. I just left Dealer a message on his machine, and finished writing a strongly worded letter that basically says he’ll refund me and reimburse all my expenses or I’ll take him to small claims court, file criminal charges for consumer fraud, and notify the DMV offices in both PA and NJ. And then stab him repeatedly in the face.

I’d keep banging my head against the wall, but it’s starting to bruise, and the wall doesn’t look so good either.

Tom Wolfe

July 18, 2006

I’ve been reading more blogs since I started writing this one a few weeks ago. And while I’ve found some good ones, and a handful of really great ones, I’m surprised at just how many people out there have nothing to say, but go ahead and say it anyway. Predictably, some of the best blogs have a singular focus (a franchise, if you will). But some of the best do not. There are personal journals out there, written by people who have many interests and no particular expertise, that can be as interesting as anything. The subject matter doesn’t necessarily make the difference, provided the writer is eloquent and insightful enough.

(footnote: wordpress’s spell check marks “blog” as not being a word. Odd, huh?)

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with the Yodelling Llama recently, where he mentioned he doesn’t like authors who do a bunch of research and then write about it, like Tom Wolfe. Presumably, he prefers writers who follow that old creative writing seminar cliche “write what you know,” like, say, Nick Hornby. Clearly both styles can work. Blogs present an interesting development, because most of them are written by people for whom this is not a full-time job, who are doing this because they feel like writing, and who don’t feel the need to provide any particular kind of subject matter to their audience. What this means, in short, is that a greater number of people out there are “writing what they know.”

I wouldn’t throw the dirt on Tom Wolfe just yet. Most professional writers still do research (usually an awful lot of it). But if blogs had existed during the dawn of the space program, and if Gus Grissom or John Glenn had kept one, would I still have wanted to read The Right Stuff? I specifically didn’t pick up I Am Charlotte Simmons in part because I can read that shit anywhere. As a greater and more varied number of people take up this hobby, will we see the death of the outsider writer?

wanna touch my mixtape?

July 17, 2006

Among my favorite film scores are those for Gattaca (Michael Nyman), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun), Star Wars (John Williams, obviously, for the Tatooine sunset scene alone) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion). Incidentally, these are all also films that I particularly like, which makes sense, since I suppose I don’t take much notice of a score without multiple viewings.

These are all reasonably traditional film scores. Most movies today, however, use pop music, which is usually not composed specifically for the film. Who picks what songs go where? Depends. Often the director chooses, sometimes the producers. Sometimes music types like Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) and Kevin Shields (of My Bloody Valentine) are brought in to help. They’ve worked with Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola respectively, to marvelous effect, though exactly how responsible they are for the final results isn’t exactly clear, because there’s no standard credit for this sort of thing.

(Interesting footnote: Simon and Garfunkel were originally set to do a complete score for The Graduate. While they were working on it, older songs of theirs like “The Sound of Silence” were inserted temporarily into the rough cut. But director Mike Nichols liked the mood they gave so much, he kept them all in, and rejected all the new songs except “Mrs. Robinson.”)

Anyway, my point with all this is that I feel I’d be pretty damn good at picking songs for film soundtracks. (I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve received on my mix tapes). But since these things tend to be given to, you know, film directors and music composers, I’m pretty much out of luck. Unless I learn how to compose music. There’s always an in.