Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apocalypse Now and Now and Now

I've come to the conclusion that there is some contract within the movie industry that the world as we know it must be destroyed on film at least once every summer. Giant tidal waves, asteroids, alien nanomites, random explosions, environmental catastrophes, zombie pandemics and plain old biblical curses- one way or another it's gotta happen at least once a year. Much the same way that a re-make of the Christmas Carol must be made at least once every five years. (Maybe less, I haven't paid that close attention.)

I wonder what would happen if these movies weren't made? What are the terms of the contract? Is it plain old boring bankruptcy or the CEO getting fired or is it something more technical? Like you lose your CGI rights for your action movies or you're not allowed to use Meryl Streep in your new independent film which would be destined for an oscar if she signed on. Or maybe you're banned from making formulaic romantic comedies for a period of no less than 3 years and therefore lose half of your revenue for each quarter you're out of production. Or your slasher movies can't show blood or body parts of any kind or your family movies can't have kids in them.

These are just some of the things I wonder about when I go to the movies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Circular Living

I knew the class was going to be a challenge when I took it. Avant-garde architecture always is. How can a mere freshman emerge as the new Frank Loyd Wright, Louis Kahn or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe of his time in just one class?

But I signed up anyway, hoping that my passion, lack of constrictive cynicism, and plain old blind faith would lead the way to new ground. I’ll admit, I had dreams of taking the instructor’s breath away with my first assignment by drafting a piece so innovative that words would fail to describe it.

What I ended up with was a rounded-off cylinder.

The assignment had been to construct a house, suitable for living, with no right angels. It had to be utilitarian with all the normal spaces for storage, stairwells, bathrooms and closets. But you couldn’t use any right angles.

I started off drafting a simple two-story box shaped thing and then started cutting off the corners. At first it seemed deceptively simple- just cut the corners, no pun intended, and you’re done. It was when I tried to figure out all the damned utilities that things got screwy. Constructing a staircase with no right angles that is structurally sound is about as easy as finding a microscopic ant in the Amazon. And a plain old spiral staircase wouldn’t work with the structure. So I started cutting corners off the cut corners, spiraling inwards in an octagonal, then decagonal, then dodecagonal, then hexadecagonal, and finally icosagonal fashion until I was dealing with nothing but circles.

The storage spaces became circular crawl spaces. The hallways folded in on themselves. The rooms became too round to fit any real furniture. And the whole structure began to resemble and 8th grade geometry equation I’d remembered having a lot of trouble with.

By 3am I’d given up on conceiving of anything habitable and just gave up, assuming I’d chalk the whole experience up to learning. I brought it into my instructor expecting a raised eyebrow and a knowing “harder than it looks, huh?”

Instead he just handed it back with a comment at the top saying “What about the plumbing?”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Red Alert

The red alert buzzer awoke Buck from a terribly odd dream which he instantly forgot upon waking. He grabbed his suit and pulled on it while making his way for the door and got the shirt over his head just in time to bang into it.

“Bloody open, already!” he screamed at it and the door complied all too slowly for his taste. He tripped over his pants while running down the hallway and barreled into Craft just around the corner from his quarters. Craft fell to the ground with his head in the sleeve of his shirt and landed with a loud “oomph!”

“What in the-“ he spluttered, yanking the suit off his head and looking up at Buck who, by this time, had gotten his pants safely on and was looking down at him with a bemused expression.

“Oh, it’s you,” Craft blustered. “Wonder what the nit’s got us up for this time?”

“Probably intergalactic plague penguins,” Buck said as he reached a hand down to help Craft up. Craft took it and was yanked up far quicker than he anticipated. He complained about Buzz pulling his arm out of it’s socket while fixing his shirt on correctly and running after him as they both headed for the deck. They met several other crew members along the way, all in various states of undress and all taking bets about what ridiculous drill they would be executing this evening.

“I bet it’s gonna be regenerating mechanical iguanas with the ability to emit EMP bursts!” Lex offered excitedly.

“No way! Invisible genetically engineered rats- hard to find, hard to kill,” Mouth countered.

“I was betting on intergalactic plague penguins, myself,” Buck joined in.

“Whatever it is it’s getting bloody old,” Craft complained.

“Oh come one, man- this is our thing! Don’t you get it? Every crew has something crazy on the ship that they have to deal with. Falconers get the constantly malfunctioning cloaking device, Orbs get the space-time rifts, and we get the absurd drills at all hours of the evening. This is what makes the Eagles the Eagles!” Lex explained.

“You are entirely too perky for this time of the evening,” Craft replied.

They all got to the deck just in time to hear the captain announcing tonight’s drill: shape-shifting psychic lemmings. Mouth reached into his pocket and begrudgingly slapped a 20 phine bill in Lex’s hand.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dread and the Fear of Munchkins

Dorothy followed the yellow brick road for a solid two minutes before realizing just how much the tornado had taken out of her. The pain in her feet brought on by having never worn heels before aided in this discovery, as did the grumbling in her stomach. She needed at least a brief respite before embarking on this odd quest and she couldn’t think of any group that would be more willing to offer this than the freakishly giddy munchkins she’d just left. She stopped to take off the dead women’s shoes and rubbed her feet for a minute before doubling back. While holding them she realized just how creepy the whole thing was and wondered very much if all this wasn’t actually a nightmare brought on by extreme stress.

“Best not to think about it.” She concluded, and walked back.

The munchkins were, shockingly, still dancing when she got back. When she explained to them what she was wondering they were all too happy to help and way too happily lead her to the pub for some snacks. It was an interesting endeavor to get through the door and she could only be grateful that she wasn’t any taller or she might not have been able to stand up inside. They offered her a whole variety of candies, cakes, tarts and other sugary dessert-type of entrees and even though she knew Aunty Em would’ve killed her for eating such dishes before supper she couldn’t resist. Besides, she reasoned, it would be inhospitable to refuse what was offered.

They offered her ale to drink but as she knew that the farmhands got yelled at when they drank it she figured it would be unsafe for her to try and asked for water instead. Although they did have it on hand they were confused that she would want it. She asked them what they normally drank and was met with a chorus of “Sex on the beach!” from everyone In hearing distance. She hadn’t the foggiest idea what it was but she observed two facts about it very quickly. One: Munchkins loved this “Sex on the Beach” more than they loved dancing and singing. Two: They get very, very handsy when they drank it. Unfortunately for her their height seemed to give them just the right angle to reach right up under her skirt and pinch her butt. She squealed her disapproval but was met by laughter every time.

Realizing the futility of her attempts at modesty she made her way to the corner to sit down and cut off access to her already sore derriere. There she met two older Munchkins with shockingly white hair and beards. One was bit pudgier and more inebriated and the other was a bit thinner and more observant to the chaos around him. They were both the oldest looking people she’d seen in this place so far and she couldn’t help but feel a bit relieved at their lack of involvement in the festivities. Unlike the others who were “hootin’ and hollerin’” as Uncle Henry would’ve described it, these two seemed content to simply sit and drink.

“So, you’re the one who killed that witch, huh?” the pudgy one asked.

“Oh, it was an accident,” she tried to reassure them.

“Don’t waste your apology, you did us all a big favor,” the other reassured her.

“Yeah, she had big ol’ stick up her butt,” the pudgy one stated quite factually.

“Stick, hah! You mean forest!” the thin one countered.

At this the pudgy one burst into hysterical laughter that shook him so hard she thought he might be having a heart attack. The thin one responded by laughing at the pudgy one. Not wanting them to see her confusion she tried to join in the laughter but after a full minute had passed with no signs of them slowing down she gave up and looked for the exit. She made her way through the mob with her hands covering her behind and safely slipped out the door. Toto was waiting for her patiently outside and she was nothing but glad to see him.

“You’re lucky you weren’t in there,” she said to him. He looked back at her with an expression which stated that he already knew that based on the noises that had been emerging.

She decided to take a small walk around the village just until her food settled at which point she resigned to get back on the road and get as far away from here as possible. She passed several quaint looking houses as she made her way towards the edge of the village and there she found what looked to be a small path into the woods. Being the inquisitive little girl that she was she followed it and found that it lead to a small clearing with a relatively large box in the middle. She opened the door of the box and found what could only be described as an outhouse inside. The seat had a large hole in the middle about the right height for the munchkins and she assumed that she knew what was down there. As she had to go anyway she sat down and did what one does in an outhouse.

A gargling sound emerged from underneath her followed by a long, ragged scream. She jumped up, hit her head on the ceiling, and burst through the door to the clearing. The screaming continued as she got her knickers back on and she looked around just in time to see the whole group of munchkins making their way into the clearing. The horror she’d initially felt in reaction to the scream only built as they stared at her fixing her waist with expressions that probably matched her own.

“I- I don’t know what happened,” she tried to explain. “I was just using the outhouse when-“

Another scream interrupted her, this time from a munchkin who had apparently entered the outhouse and seen the sprinkling she’d left on the seat during her hasty escape. He emerged slowly and faced the others.

“She has defecated on the Olimander,” he said. Shocked gasps echoed around the clearing as each of the munchkins turned to face her. The older thin one she’d been sitting with in the pub started walking toward her with a pointed finger.

“We welcome you to our village, share our food with you, offer the protection of the ruby slippers and this is how you repay us?” He spoke slow and loud with the promise of dreaded actions behind his words. She wanted to defend herself and to explain that she had no idea what an Olivander was or why it would be living at the bottom of an outhouse but the looks in the faces of the crowd told her that she’d better just keep her mouth shut. The old munchkin’s pointed finger turned into a fist and she gulped. The members of the lollipop guild she’d met earlier emerged from the pack swinging their giant lollipops in their hands like they knew how to use them. The seemingly innocent girls from the lullaby league started walking towards her swinging the ballet slippers like nunchakus. She backed into the door of the outhouse and waited for the first blow. It came from the old man who’d been leading the mob in the form of a fist to the gut. Lucky for her Toto bit the little man’s shin with the force that only deceivingly small dogs can muster just before the fist made contact and he let out a loud yell.

She made a break for it and barreled through the crowd, knocking over at least three of the lullaby girls in the process. She ran as fast as she could out of the clearing and back into the village toward the yellow brick road with Toto following on her heels and the munchkins just behind him yelling and brandishing a variety of impromptu weapons. She didn’t pause as she rounded the corner of the little pub and put on great deal of speed once she hit the open road. The mob trailed her for what seemed like a mile and likely would have caught up had her legs not been substantially longer than theirs. The blisters on her feet were worse than any farm injury she’d ever expereinced.

Although Dorothy faced many more frights on the long, circuitous route back to Kansas none compared to the terror of the Munchkin attack.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Childhood Power Outings

I don’t think that thunderstorms were really any different when I was kid. I’m sure they weren’t any different scientifically, unless the air’s carbon content really has shot up that much. But I don’t remember the science channel saying anything about carbon playing a particularly large role in the process of electricity in clouds.

What was different was the amount of time it took for the power to come back on after it went out. As I recall, it would go off relatively suddenly and not come back on for a good 10 or so hours, maybe longer. But if it went out in the afternoon (which it often did) you could bank on it being out until you went to bed that night.

The first response to this would be to pull out the Monopoly board because that game, to the best of my knowledge, has never been successfully executed in any less than 5 hours. My mom would always be banker, I’d always distribute the houses and hotels (construction included), my brother would hoard the properties and my dad would be happy not to have a million little cards or pieces of plastic scattered in front of him. We played with the loose rules where you could make deals with people i.e. ‘I’ll let you buy this property from me if you let me land on it for free after you build hotels’. There would be arguments, underhanded swindling, and a variety of other activities only available to those taking the game way too seriously. My brother would almost always win. And reliably, by that time, it’d be getting dark.

So we’d put the board away, gather up the flashlights and candles and other supplies, and settle in for my father’s ghost stories. He had a small collection of some of the creepiest stories I ever heard. Creepy because of his voice, the dim light of the candles bouncing around the corners of the room and messing with the shadows, and the fact that he swore up and down that they were all 100% true. I could remember being wrapped in apprehension as he neared the end- which never changed regardless of how many times he told it, but still managed to scare the crap out of me.

Then with the lights out and likely to stay that way until after we’d fallen asleep and vague visions of undead Russians coming to get me I’d settle into my parents' bed (my favorite retreat after scary movies and the like) and snuggle into to sleep.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Scourge of the DMV

The scowl had been permanently fixed onto her face many years prior. No one quite knew what had caused it, but everyone shared some version of the rumors about its birth. Some speculated that she’d had her face surgically altered that way after being abandoned at the altar by her lover. Those who actually read the assigned materials in English lit quickly concluded that to be a variation of Miss Havisham’s tale and cockily corrected those who spread the story. Some teased that her face had been frozen that way after the neighborhood kids had slapped her back, and used this as a cautionary tale to others. Some thought, quite logically, that life at the DMV really was that soul-suckingly monotonous and assumed that if they worked there they’d probably look the same. Whatever the cause, the scowl remained.

She was a legend at the DMV. Teenagers told stories about her around campfires to their younger peers who were not yet old enough to drive. Older brothers and sisters told their younger siblings that the only way they’d gotten their license was because she wasn’t working the day that they took her test. Brash peers dared each other to interact with her and placed bets on her reaction. One particularly proud boy went so far as to compliment her beauty and ask her out on a date. The offer was met by a knowing, dismissive “Hmmph.” Most, however, simply prayed to survive their test without peeing themselves. Kyle was one of that latter.

His test had been scheduled a month prior so he used the time to prepare. Not by driving or practicing parallel parking or other fool-hardy methods. But by praying to every deity he could think of that she either wouldn’t be on duty that day or, if she was, would be eager enough to be done with her day that she’d pass him just to save on paperwork. He went to church, to a monastery, to a temple, and to a psychic. He did confession, meditated, sang, prayed and attempted to work a spell out of a grimoire he’d found in Hot Topic. He even donated money to the county’s traffic patrol fund hoping that the karma would work in his favor.

Despite all this preparation, however, he was still unprepared for the day. He woke the morning of his test feeling headachy and nauseous after spending most of the prior evening sitting up and rocking after a nightmare in which she’d eaten him after failing to signal a turn. He got up early and waited at the breakfast table for his big sister to come down and drive him to the DMV. On the ride over felt some remorse for the stories she’d told him, seeing their effect portrayed in his petrified expression. She tried to reassure him but he heard little of what she said and simply nodded. Even her reminder that should he fail he could simply take it again in a couple of months failed to make a dent in his firm state of panic.

All through the process of checking in Kyle cursed himself for laughing at the voodoo ritual his friend had suggested and wondered if he was about to punished for misdeeds in past lives. By the time he was sitting in the car waiting for his tester to join him he’d been reduced to a chant of “Please don’t let it be her, please don’t let it be her” as he clasped his hands so tight he lost circulation to his fingers after a minute. When the passenger’s side door opened he jumped so high he hit his head on the ceiling.

He looked over to find none other the scourge of the DMV sitting next to him, clipboard in hand and scowl casting a gloom over the interior of the car. His dream of surviving this day seemed to shatter before him, the shards flashing visions of cursing around town with his friends or bragging to the bully in gym class before falling from view.

“Kyle Forrester?” she asked, scanning her clipboard.

“Ye-yes? I mean, yes, that’s me.” He squeaked.

“My name is Mrs. Albertson. I’ll be giving you your test today. Have you adjusted the mirrors to your field of vision?”

“Uh- yes. I mean, uh- no, no, I should do that. “ He fiddled with the rearview mirror trying to get to show a future where he had his license and failing to see anything other than the parking lot behind me. He opened the window and tried to adjust the side view only to find that he couldn’t get to move. His struggle was interrupted by a throat clearing on the other side of the car.

“I think you have to use that little knob over there. The one with the arrows drawn around it?” She pointed to a small knob just inside the window.

He grabbed it and pushed it around, trying to see as far behind him on the side as possible. He cursed his parents for not buying one of those new cars that bragged of blind-spot proof rear-view mirrors.

“Are you ready, son?” she asked.

“Um, yes- yes.” He sighed.

“Start the ignition.” He turned the key and the engine turned to life. ACDC’s “Big Balls” blared through the speaker. Kyle jumped and reached over to turn it off.

“No, wait.” She said as she stopped his hand. Kyle watched as, miraculously, a small twitch started in the left hand corner of her mouth and spread, ever so slowly into a smile. She slowly bopped her head along to the music as the chorus played. At the same time Kyle felt an indescribable sensation start in his chest and go up to his shoulders as the weight of the world slowly lifted and breathed out a breathed fully for the first time in a month.

“Now then,” she said, “feeling a little more prepared to drive?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he smiled.

Although her legend would always precede her, Kyle never repeated the stories.