Movie Night

 

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             Mrs. G. and I used to go out to the movies a lot. Sometimes even twice in the same month, but it’s been a year since we’ve been to a movie theater and probably another year before that one. The biggest reason for this is not that all movies today are awful because they’re not. It’s that we can never decide on a movie that’s worth the price of two tickets. By the time we debate this, a weekend or two has gonenic cage 2014-12-29 by, and the urgency to see the newest three-hour long Hobbit movie has already waned.

             If we do decide to go to an actual theater to see a movie, it’s an all out event. I’ll cram my pockets full of bags of Gummi bears and other snacks, while my wife loads up her purse with water bottles to the point where it weighs more than a Thanksgiving turkey—which I would actually put in her purse if I could figure out how to discreetly eat a turkey in a movie theater.

             Then we have to get in the car, drive to the theater, park, walk in, and then wait in line to shell out almost thirty bucks for two tickets. After this and in spite of carrying more food and water than a Sherpa, I’ll somehow be compelled to pay more for a lunch bag of popcorn than I would for a decent steak.

             At this point, tickets are handed to an indifferent teenager who points us towards a hive of theaters within theaters, where we then wander around until we find the correct theater, and then we pick out our seats. I tend to favor sitting as far up and back as I can get. If I could get a seat in the projection booth, that would be fine by me.

             Once we’re seated and finally past the commercials, the cell phone warnings, the dancing Pepsi cups and the previews, I’ll try to ignore the people who did all of the above, yet will still spend two hours lighting up the theater with the dazzling screens of their enormous smartphones.

             When it’s all over, I’ll unstick my shoes from the floor, dig my coat out of the seat crack, and begin the exodus down the stairs 200134647-001behind people who have left nacho trays, popcorn barrels, Junior Mint containers the size of a shoe box, drink cups and pretty much everything but their underwear behind them. The poor usher is standing at the base of the stairs with a small garbage can and a broom, but what he really needs is a backhoe and a dumpster. Half the time, I’ve forgotten all but the basic plot of the movie before I even get to the car. Why bother? It’s just easier and a lot more enjoyable to go online and reserve a movie at Redbox.

             This past weekend, we actually went a step deeper and streamed two movies on-demand, in spite of my griping that they cost $4.99 in 4K. This is still significantly less than going to a movie theater, yet more than Redbox, so it’s clear that I place the entertainment value of a multi-million dollar movie at two bucks.

             My wife and I always watch movies together, but if pickings are slim at the Redbox or if Netflix is a little dry, we’ll often watch the stupidest movies ever made in the hopes that they will be fractionally good. They seldom are, so from now on, I resolve to cut my losses and no longer do this.

     alien        This means no more movies with a contemporary spin on vampires, no more psychotic killers who, oddly enough, can’t be killed themselves, no maniacs of any kind (including possessed dolls or puppets) and no movies with houses haunted by spirits or invaded by gangly aliens from space, even if the story is “based on actual events.” I don’t mind a little fantasy, but a tincture of reality and a cohesive storyline would be nice. For example—if I wake up some night and see a gangly alien standing next to my bed with his arms up in some gangly and menacing manner, I’m not going to stare blankly in abject fear while he probes me or takes me away to his spacecraft like those dopes in the movies. I’m smacking him in the head with an alarm clock and going back to bed. That’s how it’s done in America, Mr. Space Alien. If anyone wants to make a terrifying movie, make one where the squirrels turn against us. That scares me.

             I will also avoid any movie that has any sort of plot that involves a dystopian future. Seriously, who writes these things and why are these people so negative about the future? It’s the future; it’s supposed to be bright and filled with good things such as flying cars and no diseases and cool stuff such as that. Isn’t today better than it was a century ago? Of course it is, but according to half of the movies out there, homicidal clans, draconian overlords or evil robots that somehow hate humans will be running the show and we’ll all be 15816-dystopiawearing rags and living in a place that looks like London in the nineteenth century, only grimier and with more fires in barrels. Enough already.

             And while I do have an inexplicable addiction for superhero movies, I have crossed anything that involves any actor who used to be a wrestler, a bodybuilder or is named after a mineral off my viewing list. If I’ve seen one movie where somebody fires off their body weight in bullets, I’ve seen them all. On the flip side of that, I’ve noticed that the new trend in action movies involves old guys who get dragged out of retirement so they can rescue a family member or right some previous wrong. I like these movies because none of the old guys I know are harboring a secret set of assassin skills, unless being cranky counts as a martial art. I have to admit that I get a kick out of watching sixty-something Liam Neeson Krav Maga the crap out of somebody half his age.

             Finally, and this is non-negotiable no matter how many stars the Internet gave the movie, I will no longer watch a movie that has a ratio of teenagers higher than two percent. Anything more than that will lead to any of the above situations or possibly a dance-off, a sing-off, trendy words and phrases I do not understand or somebody trying to “get some.” If I want to watch ninety minutes of wacky teenagers, I’ll, I’ll, wait a second … there is no circumstance on Earth where I’d want to do that. I’d rather watch a British period drama, and these are also off my list. Well, unless they have zombies. Some premises are just too absurd to ignore.

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Sneaky

 

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            When I think back to the 1960s, I remember a time spent going to school and having what seemed like years off for summer vacation. School was school, but summer was Christmas morning times a thousand. It was never too hot, never too rainy or never too dry. It was simply summer, and no kid in their right mind ever complained about a minute of it.

            There were two things in particular that defined summer for me, and this was especially true since I was a Catholic schoolboy who spent most of the year wearing a necktie, stiff leather shoes, and heavy trousers. Summer was the time when I could finally swap the parochial sackcloth and leather clodhoppers for sneakers and shorts—and boy did that feel good.

            On the first day of summer vacation, Mom would load us all into the Biscayne and head off to Thom McAn’s for a pair of new sneakers. There were only two choices for color and style—black or white, and low or hi-top. I always opted for white hi-tops, and immediately broke them in by walking through Methodist Creek (so named because it was next to a Methodist church) until they were suitably wet and muddy. New sneakers were cool and all, but clean-white-dirty-sneakers-Interesting-Remediesone didn’t want them to look new. They were the most comfortable things ever invented, but the absolute moment when they finally developed the perfect blend of holes, dirt, and color, they fell apart. The only thing that barely held them together were laces that were more knots than lace.

           Sneakers didn’t hold up long back then. By the time summer vacation ended and school started back up again, they looked as if they had been run through a wood chipper. The cotton uppers and vulcanized rubber soles simply couldn’t stand up to bicycle toe dragging, summer growth spurts or the rigors of street softball for more than a few months. Come September, the sneaks got tossed in the corner and swapped out for a pair of thick school oxfords.

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           I’ve never been able to shake my Mom’s cheap sneaker mentality, and for the most part, I’ve always opted for whatever sneakers fit from outlet stores with names such as, “Last Year’s Styles” or “Random Sizes—Try Your Luck.” Sneakers weren’t my primary shoes because that task was delegated to work boots, so I really didn’t care. I’d spend a lot of money on good work boots because they were tools, but sneakers? Those were temporary summer shoes. I didn’t care what they looked like or what brand they were so long as they fit, and didn’t cost more than $39.00.

            A few weeks ago, Mrs. G. and I went out together while she bought a new pair of sneakers. Since she walks three miles a day, almost every day, her sneaks don’t last long but she’ll wear them until the inside of the heels are ragged, and the soles are almost transparent. After the shoeologist measured Mrs. G’s feet, she came out of the stockroom with several boxes of sneakers, all of them a full size larger than the size my wife has worn since high school. Mrs. G. was aghast. “They look enormous!” she said, but once thUnknowney were laced up and she was able to walk around the store, her horror did a complete one-eighty. “Oh my God, they feel like pillows,” she said. She then did a little jog in place and declared them sold. Whether or not the sizing of footwear has changed or her feet had somehow grown, that didn’t matter. She loved her new sneakers.

            A week or so later, my wife and I did an adventure hat trick, hiking up hill and down dale in three different places, as we tried to cram as much summer as possible into five days. As we were walking, one of my toes started to hurt, so when we got home, I had a look only to find that it was beet red and that the skin had been worn off the knuckle. Do toes have knuckles? Anyway, my toe had been rubbing on the inside of my sneaker.

            “You need a bigger size,” my wife said with authority. Maybe, I guess. You mean it’s not normal to curl my toes in my sneakers? I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had my foot measured by someone. Up until witnessing my wife’s experience, I thought that skillset went out with milkmen.

            A few days after that, we went back to the athletic shoe store where Mrs. G. bought her sneaks, and a guy sprang out of nowhere to ask me if I needed help with anything. This threw me, and I wondered if he was trying to sell me something or perhaps wanted a donation. Then it dawned on me. Oh yeah, he’s trying to help me with sneakers. It’s been forever since somebody approached me in a store asking if I needed help, but geez—wear a bell or something.

           “Yeah, hi—I need new sneakers. Nothing too fancy. Something for everyday wear. No bright colors. See those fluorescent orange Nike’s? Not those. And I’m not a big fan of lime green.”

Meißen really big shoe            He measured my feet, and my left foot was a touch over a size thirteen, and my right was a thirteen on the money, so this meant a size fourteen. This must be where clowns buy their sneakers because that didn’t even faze him. “We have shoes up to a size twenty-two,” he said. He also checked the wear pattern on my shoes for supination or pronation. I pronate, and they have sneakers that help correct this. Who knew sneakers did this sort of thing? Not me.

            He came out with two boxes since the “not too colorful” parameters I gave him plus the pronation issue narrowed down the playing field. The first pair came out of the box, and I swear they looked rectangular, and I mean an actual rectangle. They could have put laces on the box and they would have looked the same, plus they were snow white. I tried them on anyway, but I’ve seen livelier shoes in nursing homes or perhaps on pilgrims. “Yeah, um, I know I said no bright colors, but these make me feel as if I should be driving an Oldsmobile to the straw hat and suspender store. What’s in the other box?

            He showed me a nice looking pair of New Balance sneakers, and I tried them on. Cherubs began to sing. They felt as if
somebody laced clouds on sneaksmy feet. Clouds wrapped around a really firm, yet comfortable mattress. They weren’t a blinding shade of white either, but not as bright as the hot red sneakers the kid on the treadmill next to me was taking for a test drive. “Sold!” I said.

            I love them. Not as much as my wife loves hers because she begins each walk as if she’s Dorothy skipping off to see the Wizard. Me? I’m a little more reserved with my sneaker love, but they are pretty great. Almost summer-sneaker-from-Thom-McAn’s great, and the best part is; they look good clean. The next best part is they don’t resemble something the UPS driver wears, so this is what I’d call a win/win.

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The New Kid

 

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           I grew up on a typical suburban street that was laid out much the same as rows of corn—one after the other, straight as an arrow, with each house filled to the rafters with kids. We were all baby boomers—the children of prolific parents who broke the seams of the city, and moved out to the suburbs for green grass and a fenced in yard. Kids were everywhere, so there was never a shortage of someone wanting to hang around. At any given moment, kids would appear out of nowhere, eagerly mumbling the refrain of our generation—hey, wanna play?

            Things were stable in our neighborhood. Everybody seemed to move in at the same time, and nobody ever moved out. One exception was Ronnie Fitz, who moved in with his family one street over, and a few doors down from one of my friends. A one street over friend was a rare thing to have anyway, so a new kid who lived down the street from the one street over kid shouldn’t have made much of a ripple, but he did. Man, did he ever.

            Ronnie fell into our group in the usual way. We needed an extra kid for a game of softball, and this seemed as good a time as any to knock on Ronnie’s door. It didn’t take long for his stories to start.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            “I’m not supposed to play baseball,” he told us, “this bein’ on account of the steel plate in my head,” he said from the front step of the family house. He was putting the finishing touches on an apple, taking careful bites that seemed to punctuate the big reveal about his steel plate. No greater opening line had ever been uttered in the history of our neighborhood as the steel plate bombshell that was dropped that afternoon.

            “Yeah, I got it when I hitched onto a train and fell off. Hit my head on the tracks, and they had to put a steel plate in my head,” he said with absolute seriousness.

            Our group was a genial one not prone to disbelief, even with something as far-fetched as emergency backwoods noggin surgery. After all, this was the summer we had captured a pollywog that had arms and legs, bridging that evolutionary gap Hobo_1933_in_boxcar_doorbetween pollywog and frog. It was the unicorn of pollywogs, so the news of steel plate Ronnie wasn’t as shocking as it could have been. We were worldly now.

            “Maybe you can just come along and hang out,” somebody said. Ronnie asked his mother, who eyed us up carefully for a second or two while scanning us with her mom radar for nefarious intent. She eventually and cheerfully said, “yes,” probably happy that Ronnie was making friends, so off we went. As the group walked to the ball field we were silently trying to make sense out of Ronnie, and the news that he had shared. Was it true or not? Nobody had ever fabricated such an elaborate lie before, so maybe it was. True to his word, Ronnie sat on the sidelines while we played, sometimes shagging a foul ball, and then rolling it underhanded to the closest kid on the field.

            As the summer wore on, Ronnie would occasionally mingle into the group, and his stories became even more elaborate, involving everything short of an alien abduction, but the saga of the steel plate was still king. There were no scars that anybody could see, so how’d they do it, if they did it at all? I went so far as to stuff my pockets with a few of my mother’s refrigerator magnets, armed and ready for the next Ronnie encounter. The plan was to casually walk up behind Ronnie, and toss a handful of magnetic fruit pieces at his head to see if they stuck. I never did it though. As inquisitive as I was, something inside of me thought this through to the magnetic pieces bouncing off his head and falling to the ground. I then imagined the hurt look on Ronnie’s face, and I suddenly felt bad for something I didn’t even do. I never thought to question Ronnie’s stories again.

            Whatever his reasoning, Ronnie stuck with his story, recanting it often with the same flourish of details about the train mishap, so there didn’t seem to be much of a point in decorating his head with magnetic bananas. Overall he was a good kid, but he never stopped with the stories. It was as if he wanted to be liked, but he never trusted us enough to stop trying so hard.

            The Fitz family didn’t stay long. They were gone within a few years when Mr. Fitz was transferred to another city. We found out that this was a pattern for them, as Mr. Fitz did something called contract work, which none of us understood. One day, Ronnie was gone without any good-byes, simply moving on to a new town, and presumably doing the best he could to fit in before moving again.

            The boy, the myth, the legend: Ronnie Fitz.

            None of us ever knew if his stories were true or not, but Ronnie seemed to think they were, and for a few summers anyway, he livened up our staid little group of pollywog catchers. As I think about this all these years down the road, I wish things had been a little different. Deep down inside of me, in that curious part of my soul that I usually keep buried and private, I wish I had tried to stick a magnet to Ronnie’s head. I’m not proud of that, but hey—how cool would that have been if it had actually stuck?

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