Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bodyguard

This one is kind of a cheat, because it is a piece I wrote for something else, but I am already a week late, and I have a lot of stuff to do, so I'm going for it. I did at least make some edits.

In school I know was thought of as the smart one, whom you could ask for help with your homework, as well as the nice one, from whom you could borrow money and probably not pay it back. What people may not have necessarily realized is that I was also the tough one. At least, I thought I was. I knew I could handle myself in any situation, and, without being the type to start fights, I was always kind of hoping for a chance.

Yes, I was familiar with the concept of turning the other cheek, but I did not have much interest in it. For example, the last day of second grade, when our bus driver ill-advisedly said we could have a water fight on the way home, everyone brought water guns and spray bottles. I had none. When Jason S., whom I did not like anyway, stationed himself right in front of me, and started spraying, despite me being an unarmed girl, I grabbed his hair and used it to hold him to the seat until we got to his stop. When I let him up his face was beet red. I knew he was humiliated, and I was thrilled!

It was one of only two times I have had to defend myself physically. Generally I found that just being ready, confident in your clear path to victory, you did not even need to fight because your opponents would back off. The most striking example was the day I saved Lise.

Lise was in eighth grade when I was in ninth grade, and we were friends in spite of being very different. She was pale, blond, thin, and timid. Kind of rabbit-like actually, and I would probably be some sort bear, I guess. Her church was anti-Mormon, and as she kept failing to convert me, the stress of caring about someone who would not be saved really began to interfere with our friendship. I guess she eventually just consigned me to Hell, because by the time she and her brother transferred to a Christian school we had grown apart. This was before all of that.

We had made friends on the bus, and that was where the trouble started. We had just barely pulled out one day, and something ticked off the driver. I don’t know if something was thrown or someone shouted a bad word or what, but the fact that I can’t remember that part makes me think she blew it out of proportion. She pulled back into the school parking lot, and suddenly the vice principal was there and our bus was not going to move until the culprit was identified.

Although I did not do things to get in trouble, I still adhered to the basic code of the playground in that you do not snitch. For Lise, all she could think about was that if she was late her father would be mad, and she was terrified of her father. I don’t think he was abusive or anything, just stern and not comfortable. Anyway, she got off the bus with the vice principal, came back on, and the bus started for home. As subtle as that was, why they even bothered going off the bus I do not know.

Soon the news circulated that the next day, everyone was going to get off at her stop and gang up on her. I told her not to worry about it, because I would walk her home.

It was important to dress appropriately. My usual coat that year was my father’s old motorcycle jacket. I accessorized it with a studded leather wristband. I probably would never have bough either item, but I loved them both. The wristband was found while I was in line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland. I spied it on the ground from a few curves away, and hoped no one else would claim it before I got to that part of the line. It wasn’t an every day thing. I would wear it on test days or special occasions, when I wanted that extra edge. For bodyguard service it was a definite necessity.

The bus route was basically a square, from 170th turning on Blanton, then down 165th, turning right on Farmington, and doubling back onto 170th to complete the route. My stop was one of the first and Lise’s was the last. The bus progressed along the route with no one getting off. You would think after her overreaction the day before, the driver might have responded a little to the lack of exits, but we were all unusually quiet and she probably liked that.

We were sitting in front so got off first. There was a group of about seven to nine kids behind us. Part of the strategy was to not look back, just keep walking, so I only had the one brief glimpse. If I try to remember, some faces almost appear, but the only two I can identify with certainty are Melissa and Cheryl. I knew Melissa because she was dating Aaron, who had the locker next to mine and whom I liked, even though he was a year younger than me and a drug dealer. I knew Cheryl from church, and yet somehow I was not shocked to see her there. I bet her parents would have been surprised. It was not an all-girl group despite that. I think Tom might have been there, but I am not sure. I hope not. If all the teasing he took about his mentally ill mother did not turn him against bullying, I don’t know what would have.

Lise had a very long driveway, so the perfect attack spot would have been halfway up. They would not have necessarily attracted attention from either the road or the house. But nothing happened. They followed for a few steps, then disappeared. I spent a little while at Lise’s house, then walked home unmolested.

I feel confident that I did the right thing. If I had not been there, she would surely have been jumped, and hurt, and her father would totally have pressed charges, allowing the ugliness to escalate. Still, it was all pretty stupid. Why didn’t they attack her the next day when I did not escort her? Does a group attack really require that much planning? And how pathetic is it nine against one is acceptable, but throw an extra person in there and all bets are off? And how long would they have kept us on the bus if she had kept her mouth shut?

I don’t know what the answers are, but I think of all my experiences, this one may be the most definitively junior high. That and the beetle thing.

Just imagine Whitney Houston blaring over the credits. I’m not saying that I will always love Lise, but I like the song and it’s one of the last songs I remember of Whitney’s before she turned into a strung out crack ho.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Spork Always Shines on TV

Little Sister J was horrified when I said I wasn’t going to be watching the news anymore. It wasn’t even planned. When I started listing the reasons why I did not think the local news was too much of a problem in terms of political bias I just realized that watching it was really a waste of time. I’ve always got more things that I want to do than I really have time for, so putting time into such a poor quality product is just silly. Sorry Wayne and Shawna!

(This is off topic, but Wayne Garcia has always seemed very plasticky to me. He has kind of a sheen.)

Anyway, we can always talk about television some more. Living with three other people, plus one frequent (like every night) visitor, I don’t try and take control over the TV very often. It’s just not worth the effort. I approve of Little Sister M’s obsession with House, and can tolerate the frequent viewings of Little House on the Prairie, but if I was taking control, the schedule would be somewhat different. Priorities would be My Name is Earl, Scrubs, and The Office. I have heard good things about Everybody Hates Chris, but have only been able to see an episode recently.

I’m not sure that I like it. It may have been a weaker episode of theirs, or that I wasn’t paying enough attention, or it could even be that it just doesn’t appeal to me, despite my fondness for Terry Crews. However, I can’t rule out the possibility that it just hit too close to home.

After establishing that their poverty and Dad’s thrifty nature means living on generic products, Dad gets lucky and stumbles across $200 in food stamps. This means that Mom can go shopping for brand names, and she has a great time doing so, but when she gets to checkout an acquaintance shows up, and Mom’s pride causes her to, instead of paying with the food stamps, pull out the $100 grocery money that was going to be freed up to use for something else, like maybe a family outing or the light bill. Due to additional mix-ups, the food stamps pay for Mom’s hair appointment and the lights get shut off.

It just hurts! It good have been such a windfall. The groceries were around $98, so they could have had another shopping trip, plus electricity, and gone to see Rocky III. It’s not the movie I would have picked, but still!

It’s not that poverty jokes put me off, but losing a good chance like that hurts a lot. So I may give it another chance, but it may be too painful for me. I know people who can’t find The Office or Dilbert funny, and I understand why, but it doesn’t affect me that way.

Regardless of my personal hang-ups, I’m sure it is still a good show, and there is something to be said for that. There have been a lot of horrible sitcoms out there.

I think the worst that I have seen personally is Full House. Now, I admit that I did not watch it when it was on originally, so I don’t have any nostalgia cushioning the impact. That being said, it really sucks. How did it last for eight years? Even if it was a good show, it would crumble under the weight of having spawned the evil empire known as Mary-Kate and Ashley. As it is, there’s just no excuse. I much preferred the blended household of Family Matters.

I think after The A-team wrapped up we really only watched sitcoms, so I can’t really comment on television dramas of the eighties or nineties, but I know one of the most disturbing things I have seen on television was an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.

I have only seen the one episode, and that was fairly recently on cable, so I don’t know if this was typical. Anyway, a wagon full of sick orphans pulls into town, and Dr. Quinn and the preacher try to help, but none of the other townspeople are really interested. Yes, the storekeeper teaches one orphan that smoking is bad, and the oldest girl almost gets a job as a prostitute. That falls through because the current prostitute decides that it is more important to sacrifice herself and save the young girl from a degrading life where she can support herself and her crippled brother. (I guess there’s only room in town for one hooker.)

Meanwhile, the time Jane Seymour is spending with the new orphans and the preacher (who would like to marry her and adopt them all) alienates her boyfriend and her old orphans, so they kick the entire wagon-load out of town. We’re sorry, we can’t help you, but keep going and stick together and we’re sure something will work out. Yeah, if by working out you mean dying one by one of illness and starvation until the rest are devoured by coyotes.

I can see where it might happen in real life, but it’s not a good thing. And since this is not real life, you don’t have to construct such a dire scenario. I bet the episode writer secretly hated the entire cast, and wanted to make them look bad. Sneaky.

Next week I will try and talk about something other than television, but it may be hard. Do you know that when I try to remember childhood summer vacations, the first thing that comes to mind is watching The Bionic Woman? It was on around ten in the morning I think, on channel 12. I know we rode bikes and played hide and seek and all kinds of tag, and walk to Cook’s Market, and when I wanted to be alone I would curl up by a fan with a book and glass bottle of pop out of the refrigerator, but yeah, the first thing that comes to mind is Jaime Sommers, and that sound effect they used to convey bionic-ness.

Why do they slow down the footage to convey running really fast anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense to speed it up?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

At The Movies

I’ve had a little more time for movie viewing this week, so did get to watch both Outfoxed and Rififi from my Blockbuster* queue. I suppose Netflix* is better known, but I got a special introductory offer to Blockbuster Online, and went with them. One thing I like about them is that in addition to the mailed DVDs, I also get two free store rentals a month, which is nice if you suddenly get an impulse to watch something now.

For our local news, we watch the Fox affiliate, mainly out of habit and because it is on at 10 and we are all really tired by 11. It used to be that KPTV 12 was the UPN affiliate and the Fox affiliate was KPDX 13 (49 on UHF), but they switched a few years back. Since that time, the amount of technical difficulties, spelling errors, and other issues has gone up, plus there is just way too much coverage of American Idol. We tended to blame the decline in quality on the departure of John Sears, who is a nice man and a good news director. KPDX denied an increase in errors when asked. The American Idol coverage is, of course, just blatant pimping of their own product, and every channel does that. The Channel 8 (NBC affiliate) has had behind the scenes stories on ER and so on. It just seems to be worse with Fox.

Anyway, Fox news seems to leave you knowing less about world affairs, much less than people who get their news from public broadcasting. I guess I am not really surprised. I mean, it might not even be that viewers get less informed by watching Fox; Fox might attract the less informed to start with.

I doubt it has much of an affect on what we watch, because the local news is more about local shootings and fires and conflicts between the police and City Hall, plus their weekly exposes of restaurants that do poorly with health inspections and investigations of men trolling for slutty teenage girls over the internet. Therefore, the extreme and unrepentant political bias that you get on their nationwide news or “news” shows (Hannity and Colmes, The O’Reilly Factor, etc.,) are probably not an issue for my family, at least not to a large extent. Still, going over the issues that have already been mentioned, it’s hard to feel like they are a good time investment. So, I won’t be watching any TV news for a while. I don’t want to risk any dumbening (that’s a Simpson’s reference, a Fox product of which I approve).

I also saw a theater movie this week, Take the Lead. Last week I gave Mad Hot Ballroom the victory over Spellbound for documentaries. I also give Mad Hot Ballroom the victory over Take the Lead, which is basically its dramatic version.

Naturally, there were plot contrivances and shortcuts, but one expects this in a dance movie. You put up with it to get to the dancing. I don’t think these plot contrivances were so bad that needed to take me out of the film. We had kids in permanent detention who did not have the personality or study habits of kids that you would expect in permanent detention, but I can live with that. You had a ridiculously prejudiced math teacher, protesting the resources wasted on these loser kids. That one doesn’t make sense because he refused to take time to cover detention himself, so when an unpaid volunteer starts covering detention, that should be a relief. However, maybe they knew people were going to think, Oh, it’s a cross between Mad Hot Ballroom and Stand and Deliver, so to differentiate they made the math teacher an uncaring jerk. Finally, they had the climactic dance contest, Caitlin’s cotillion, and Rock’s illegal job all happen on the same night. Well, that’s just a film staple. You’ve got to let those kinds of coincidences happen.

In addition, the movie had some good things going for it. I thought the acting was okay, especially the kids. (Make that the actors portraying kids. The guy who played Ramos is in his thirties.) I liked that they did not show the new kids automatically winning every prize (and that the three-way tango was scored appropriately). In fact, you only see the disposition of one prize, and that is fine because winning is not the point— being able to compete and hold their own is the point.

Nope, the problem is the dancing. It just wasn’t magical enough. In fact, the three-way tango was kind of tacky. Yes, tango is very sexual, but it is also elegant and generally classy. Usually, when I come out of a dance movie there is an extra spring in my step, thinking of the moves, and I have a deep need to buy the soundtrack. I’m not buying the soundtrack.

(Also, the poster totally has the wrong look and feel, including the tagline. Never follow? They have a part where they talk about following. It does not work for this movie.)

I have season tickets to the opera, because I know that even at its worst I will usually get something out of it. I will sometimes get tickets for a particular ballet or other dance season, but generally I just pick and choose performances. The reason for this is that although when dance is good, it moves me more than anything else, when it is bad it is a really big disappointment, and often vulgar.

So Take the Lead was not awful, but it was disappointing. I wasn’t expecting it to be another Strictly Ballroom, or even Dirty Dancing, but I was hoping it could at least be in the realm of Dance with Me (Cheyenne and Vanessa Williams), which would not be considered a great movie, but it was exhilarating to watch the dancing and then I bought the soundtrack. For live dance, Trey McIntyre is a talented choreographer, but he also finds some amazing music that you may never have heard before but you are glad that he found it.

I guess my point is that there is better stuff out there, but you wouldn’t know it from walking around the theater. Movie posters have shown me that upcoming films include a third Fast and the Furious movie, a remake of The Omen, a remake of My Friend Flicka (which might not even suck, but how dry is the idea well now?), and, of utmost concern, Little Man, a Wayans brothers’ flick where “A wannabe dad (Shawn Wayans) mistakes a vertically challenged criminal on the lam (Marlon Wayans) as his newly adopted son.” Okay, White Chicks was better than I expected it to be, and this might end up being better also, but if you saw the poster you would not have high hopes.

Oh well, theaters are really expensive anyway. I’m just hoping that the Grand Lodge will get in King Kong. I have not seen it yet, I think a big screen would be beneficial, but it’s pretty much second-run now, the Valley has already had it, and Grand Lodge is the only McMenamin’s that is really accessible for me. Keep your fingers crossed for me.