Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Day the Earth Stopped Standing Still

Look, I realize that for many millions of people around the world, an earthquake is just another day in paradise. But for the East Coast, they just don’t happen. It’s like being on a lake and watching a great white eat a water skier. It could happen, it just doesn’t. It’s not on the level of having the Loch Ness monster suddenly pop up and ask for an interview, but it is pretty damn close.

I happened to be sitting at my desk in the back room of my home. I had guys working under the house on my crawlspace all day. My kids were upstairs watching a movie. Quite suddenly, my desk started to shake. My initial thought was that it was the guys under the house. As I started to make my way through my kitchen and down the hallway to my front door, the entire house started shaking around me and there was n noise somewhere between the growl of wolves and the odd sound of wood under pressure. Walking through the hall, I felt like I was in a horror movie – things seemed so much slower, everything was in Shaky-cam, and the hallway seemed to go on forever. I realized I wasn’t having some sort of massive dizzy spell/psychotic break when I heard my daughter crying from upstairs. Surely, she and I were not hallucinating at the same time. By the time I made it out the front door with my daughter by my side, my mailbox (built on top of a pole) was swaying as if in a stiff breeze. The guys in the truck looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them if they had just caused my house to shake. Only when the neighbor came out looking as surprised as I was did I realize it probably wasn’t the contractors.

I know it didn’t take long, didn’t do any damage, didn’t hurt anyone, but what it did do was shake me to my core. I have taught my kids that home is a safe place. It doesn’t matter what type of storm is raging outside. Under my roof, within my walls, with me and my husband, they are safe and sound. And then the walls shook.

It took me all day to get my equilibrium back. Now, I know Left Coasters can “stir their coffee with a 5.8”. That’s great. But us East Coaster’s are considered more grounded for a reason: because our ground doesn’t shake. It has always been firm beneath our feet. I don’t think there were any hysterics, no holy men coming forward to proclaim that the end was near and that it was time to sacrifice a goat to appease the dogs. Well, except for my husband, and he was just hoping to forestall Hurricane Irene from ruining our coastal vacation this week. In fact, the coolest part of the experience is how much we all shared it. Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree. The Twitterverse went nuts. With cell phone towers jammed, texting became the communication of choice with my husband and his family. Sure, we didn’t need to check in with each other. The already infamous picture of one plastic lawn chair out of four being knocked over by the jolt does indeed give the right picture of how minor the quake really was. However, we weren’t calling to find out if our houses were still standing; we were calling to share stories.

Let’s be honest. The earth should only move for some very specific occasions: great sex, powerful thunder, bombs, and nearness to public transportation. If you were lucky enough to be getting lucky when the quake moved the world, then I hope you enjoyed it. You’ll never have better again. If you were unlucky enough to be driving or in motion enough that you missed the motion of plates shifting, then I am sorry for you. You missed out on an experience that will hopefully never be repeated. A moment when a dozen states, with countless millions of people, all stopped at the same moment in time and thought, “What the fuck?”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

37! Inconceivable!

I am a movie snob.

There, I said it. Now, to true movie snobs, the ones that see every indie movie, every classic, hell, every film (not flick, those are different) that have been made in the last 50 years, I am but a babe in the woods (infant, not hottie). My movie viewing has become somewhat limited after having children. Why waste a date night sitting next to my husband, but not talking? I can do that on my own couch. Plus, most movies are crap anyway, so I can either pay for a month’s subscription to Netflix and HBO combined and watch unlimited crap, or buy two tickets to the newest blockbuster and pay top dollar for two hours worth of crap. It’s not a hard decision.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was raised on 80s action movies and I still love them. Christmas Eve tradition is to watch Die Hard while wrapping the kid’s presents. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho.Ho.Ho.” See, it’s a Christmas movie! Also required for the holiday’s is A Christmas Story, and sadly, because my brothers/sisters-in law all have no taste but have made me watch the movie so many times I can now actually quote it and have actually started to enjoy it, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “Shitter’s full” is a rallying cry among my husband’s family. Plus, I have seen the original Star Wars trilogy so many times that I have no idea if it is good or bad. It is a classic part of my childhood and my life and I am proud to say that my son got his first Star Wars book for his birthday and loved it. May the force be with him.

It’s not like I am only a fan of black & white movies from the silent era, I just hate Ben Stiller (excluding Tropic Thunder which was quite surprisingly hysterical). I also hate Vince Vaughn, Jim Carrey, and pretty much anything Judd Apatow has ever made. I would rather have surgery than watch Swingers, get hungover than watch the Hangover again, and nothing on heaven and earth will get me to watch any “comedy” with Cameron Diaz. Do I have a sense of humor? I think so. I just don’t do stupid. Or slap-stick. Or gross-out. (I also don’t do horror or westerns but that’s another blog.)

But recently, at a night out with some Smurfy friends, I was asked for a list of my top movies. In the interest of brevity, today I will focus on comedy. Here are the top five movies that make me laugh. They are in no particular order.

1. The Princess Bride. I unabashedly love this movie from start to finish. It’s just so silly and lovable and quotable. I honestly could find a quote for every situation. I could gush, but it would be unseemly. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

2. Galaxy Quest. Take all the jokes about Star Trek, roll them up into a ball, and then stuff them into a totally self-aware movie about a fake sci-fi show and add an actual plot. There are red shirts, shirtless captains, Shakespearean actors lamenting their lot in life, and geeks. I only wish they would make a sequel. “Maybe you’re just the plucky comic relief?”

3. Cookie’s Fortune. It’s a Robert Altman movie starring Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, and a gallery of actors all putting on Southern accents. It’s sweet, and funny, and has lot of character moments, but also lots of little asides that make it worth watching multiple times. “So I’m part black!”

4. Clerks. Foul-mouthed, bottom of the barrel humor, and some pretty crappy acting, yet this movie is still hilarious. It launched Kevin Smith’s career (for better or worse), and made Jay and Silent Bob a cultural phenomenon. Plus, it made the number 37 infamous. “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Arguably, more of a chick flick, but still funny. It perfectly captured the sort of big family, big craziness feeling of throwing a big wedding. Plus, the fact that the groom noticed the bride when she was still schlubby makes it easier to digest than all of those, girl only gets guy when she gets hot. In this movie, she gets the guy because she gets self-esteem. It’s a mild difference in a rom-com, but still a noticeable one. “Put some Windex on it.”

I’m sure I’ll kick myself for forgetting some that changed my life in some way or that make me laugh until I cried, but those choices are out of my own personal movie cabinet. Agree, disagree, just try to watch them at least once.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Reality Gets a Little Too Real

At what point will it occur to someone that if you have a shitty private life, going on a public television show is not a good idea?

In light of today’s awful announcement, I think all reality tv people should take a good, hard look at their lives. Do you want all the nitty gritty details to become public? Have you checked your financial statements? Is your job secure? Any kids with mental/physical/emotional issues? How is the family doing? Are you close with all your brothers and sisters? How is your marriage? Obviously no one has a crystal ball and can predict how your future will turn out, but if you know that your whites are a bit dingy, then don’t air your laundry in public!

We’ve seen this time and time again. Jon and Kate started out all right, I might even say cautiously happy. Now, not only are they divorced, but it was an angry, bitter, public divorce that dragged their precious kids down with it. How many Housewives have lost their husbands or their homes? Half? How many of their kids needed counseling, not cameras? All? I don’t yell at my kids as much in fall and spring because my windows are open. I couldn’t imagine having all of my windows open, all year long, with millions of people peeping in at all hours of the day and night. That, right there, is my version of hell on earth.

So why do these people choose to be on television? Fame? Money? Love? I bet all three. Prostitution is the oldest profession because it requires the least skill. The only think you need to make money is a pulse. There is nothing to learn from any of the shows on Bravo, or MTV, or Discovery, or TLC other than people are crazy, people are stupid, and when you put people in stressful situations, they will react accordingly. None of this is exactly rocket science. Teenagers get drunk, mothers relive childhood through their children, money can’t buy you class, or taste, or true friends, and simply saying that you are a singer/author/designer doesn’t mean you actually are. All of these are known facts. I don’t need to watch TV to learn them.

However, train wreck television has become appointment viewing. I DVR most of the RH series, plus a host of other reality shows and I am both embarrassed by them and addicted to them. Why? Simple – they make me feel better about myself as a wife, mother, friend, and person. I don’t put my kids through pageants, begging the audience to believe that the child is the one who loves it while said child screams and cries her way through the day. I don’t pretend I am rich. I don’t pretend that all of my acquaintances are my true friends and that every minor slight is a duel to the death offense. I am not really a dramatic person. I try to tell a good story. I try to make people laugh. I gossip. But do I stir shit intentionally in order to cause others pain and suffering? No. I most emphatically do not. I’m just me. Pantless. Often braless. Usually tasteless. I may live quite a bit of my life publicly on FB and on my blog, but I choose what gets published. I choose what I say and how I say it. I can’t blame editing. I can’t blame Andy Cohen or Jon Gosselin or any of the behind the scenes production crew because there isn’t anyone else. Anything I say or do is my fault, good or bad.

So goodbye Russell Armstrong. I hope you get in the afterlife what you denied yourself in this one – peace and quiet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What the Smurf?

In a fit of desperation, I took my kids to see the Smurf movie. I had to be out of the house for three hours, during the early evening, and it was raining and storming. They don’t do malls, all play places are closing at that hour, and my fun plan of dinner at the pool was out the window. Plan B was dinner at Chik-Fil-A and a movie. We’ve already seen Cars 2. The Pooh movie only had a 68 minute running time, which made it a complete waste, and Zookeeper looked awful. That left us with the Smurfs.

Now, I love me some Neil Patrick Harris. He’s part of the Whedonverse and if you haven’t yet seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, I highly suggest you download it from iTunes immediately. Actually, just go ahead and YouTube his opening number at the Tony Awards while you are at it. If you don’t laugh out loud at least once, well, we can’t be friends. I honestly believed that with NPH in it, it truly couldn’t be that bad. Sadly, I was mistaken.

For the record, my kids loved it. They actually laughed out loud at times and were really into it. Obviously, they have no taste.

Let’s start by discussing language. In this movie, the words “fuck” and “smurf” were interchangeable. Fuck you became Smurf You. Abso-fucking-lutely, became Abso-Smurf-ly. Perhaps my childhood memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember Smurf being a curse word before. It certainly became one in this movie. It is just modernization? Was it an attempt to amuse the parents in the audience? I don’t know, but it got old pretty quickly. However, if I could get Samuel L. Jackson to record “Go the Smurf to Bed!” I would die happy.

My problems with the movie itself were numerous. It’s like someone at Sony decided they needed to make money on merchandising and built a movie around that concept. Big brands paid big money to be in this movie. But never was the product placement anything but egregious; every product felt like it was shoehorned into the script by marketing. Plus, who did Joan Rivers blow to get in this movie? The woman hasn’t been relevant since Papa Smurf was growing his first ‘stache, yet she still managed to get a line. And don’t think I didn’t notice James Beard award winner and Top Chef host Tom Colicchio just randomly standing around in one scene looking embarrassed. What on earth was he doing there?

The movie picked up and dropped plot lines worse than Glee, which is really saying something. Every joke was obvious. Even New York City got dumbed down. I think little blue creatures three apples tall are easier to believe in that finding Central Park deserted on a warm spring night. Also, could we put a moratorium on FAO Schwartz in movies? Please? For me? Poor Hank Azaria acted like he wandered off the set of Enchanted while the rest of the actors just gamely did their best to interact with empty sightlines. It was a mess. Child friendly doesn’t have to mean stupid. Just ask Pixar.

I know I sound crazy nitpicking a PG movie for kids, and I openly admit that I am a movie snob and am so not the target audience, but still! I think everyone should always do their best at their craft. At this was by far, not the best that NPH has to offer. Not by a long shot.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Leave it to Beaver

My husband’s family has been vacationing at Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono region for nigh on forever. While he was growing up, the family would stay in a series of tiny, rustic cabins with his grandparents. They would fish off the dock, swim in the water, and play in the woods. This lake is very important to his family. His eldest brother got married up there. His youngest brother got engaged up there. Should this lake ever get hit by a meteor and disappear in a cloud of vapor and ash, his family would be devastated.

My children are well indoctrinated into lake culture. However, their experience is quite a bit different than that of their father’s childhood. For starters, there are no dirty cabins filled with spiders. Instead, they get to enjoy all the benefits of home (and then some) because their grandparents now own a lakefront cabin and a boat bigger than my living room. Fishing is a side interest at best, because they spend all of their time on the flotilla of flotation devices owned by their uncle. At six, my daughter has already been on a Jet Ski and gone tubing. She stays with her grandparents in comfort and splendor. My husband and I stay at my BIL/SIL’s gorgeous, custom-build log cabin in an alcoholic haze. It’s awesome.

This past weekend was one of the many “family weekends” that are scheduled where all four sets of children/spouses, their parents, the two grandchildren, and the grandchild-to-be all gather to make merry on land and lake. Sadly, we were without one set and they were dearly missed. But, the weather was a perfect 85 degrees with not a cloud in the sky and the alcohol flowed to the point where all three brothers were contemplating ditching work to go to a Motley Crüe concert. My daughter took her first turn ‘round the lake on a tube and loved it, my son continued his quest to be the youngest pontoon boat captain ever, and my husband I got to walk away from our earthly cares (and kids) to just relax.

This brings us to the damn Jet Ski. As Saturday afternoon was winding down, my daughter begged for one last run on it. Never having been known to say no to his niece, her uncle immediately agreed. In a kind turn, he invited my husband to be the driver and said I should go as well as it sat three. The obligatory picture was snapped and off we went. Straight was fine, straight was good. It was the turn that did us in. Within sight of the dock and our watching family (who, as it turned out, weren’t watching at all), we fell off the stupid floating death trap into the lake, flipping it over entirely. Luckily, my daughter took it rather well and after the ski was righted, clambered right back aboard and was ready to keep going. I thought this was an excellent attitude and meant to do the same. Except, well, every time we tried to get all three of us back on, we all fell off. Over and over and over again. By the sixth time we were unceremoniously dumped back into the drink, my daughter was no longer laughing. She was crying. So, once again, she climbs up, her father climbs up, and as I start swimming over to climb up, she turns to him as says,

“Let’s just leave Mommy and go.”

One the one hand, the tang of steel sliding between my shoulder blades hurt as she twisted that particular knife. On the other hand, I was actually proud of her rather bloodless ability to analyze the situation, find the flaw, and come up with a solution. Screw the no man left behind business, she really and honestly wanted to leave me floating in the middle of a lake to fend for myself while she got herself to safety. After years of believing that she was 100 percent her father’s daughter, I finally saw a glimmer of myself in her. It’s my own fault if that glimmer was reflecting off her cold, cold heart.

It was around this time that the monkey bunch back on the dock realized that the tomfoolery going on within binocular range involved their immediate family and they came to our aid. The girls climbed aboard, my husband got on the back of the godforsaken water beast and we were off. Except we weren’t – because we had broken the Jet Ski.

Now, this is not the first time we’ve been in this particular situation. Seven years ago, my father-in-law handed over the keys to the boat for a sunset cruise: my husband as captain, me as pregnant passenger. Off we went. A good ways away from land, the boat stopped. Just decided it was done. It was late in the season and there weren’t many boats on the water as dusk fell. Luckily, just ahead of us were my brothers-in-law, with wives! I waved, they waved back. I waved again, this time a bit more vigorously. They waved back cheerfully. They proceed to sit and have a snack while my husband desperately attempted to get us moving again. I start waving again, this time while shouting and using a red sweatshirt for a bit of exclamatory color. They wave back. It was at this point that I honestly thought they were going to pull anchor and leave us to a watery grave. Finally, finally, common sense kicked in and they realized that something must be wrong and floated to our aid. We ended the evening being towed back to the dock via rope while they threw pretzels at us for sustenance.

So here we were, another lake weekend, another broken piece of equipment, being towed back to the dock by rope. The only difference was the lack of pretzels. I’m pretty sure my Jet Ski career is over and only a fool would give my husband the keys to anything else again. But I’m sure we will be back, year after year, to that particular lake, with that particular family, making memories. Just hopefully, not more ones of us breaking shit – because that is going to get expensive.