Saturday, September 25, 2004

The editor strikes back

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This week, the three original "Star Wars" movies were released on DVD for the first time. Like, ever.

For unabashed or moderately abashed geeks like myself, this is marvelous news. I feel as ecstatic as Luke Skywalker was after he skimmed his X-Wing over the surface of the Death Star, Darth Vader hot on his tail, looking death right in the face, and delivered his last torpedo right on target to destroy it with one blast -- and he shot it, I may remind you, without instruments!

The original "Star Wars" films -- "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," released in 1977, 1980 and 1983 -- are the brainchildren of director, writer and gazillionaire George Lucas. Essentially, they're westerns set in space.

Except there are no horses. And no Indians. And instead of John Wayne, they star a shrimpy, tow-headed dork named Mark Hamill, who's about six feet tall when standing on a foot-high box.

The script is often laughable ("Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy!"), and the acting is hammy ("Curse my metal body!"), and the situations sometimes awkward ("You will therefore be taken to the Dune Sea, and cast into the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlaac!").

But silliness aside, "Star Wars" is a touchstone for many members of my generation. It's part of our common history and culture -- it triggers memories from our childhoods, when it was easier to be impressed by plastic-looking robots and laser guns.

It's a club that's easy to join. Just watch the movies. Then, forever after, you'll know the secret handshake -- when someone greets you with, "I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash," you'll know to respond with, "I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board."

For people who aren't familiar with "Star Wars," or want the short version, or people who don't have the scratch to buy the new DVDs, I'm including the following handy, clip-and-saveable, condensed version of the "Star Wars" trilogy:

--

NARRATOR. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

SCENE: Space. Crawling across the screen comes a summary of the petty details of the story:

NARRATOR. Episode IV -- A New Hope. There are bad guys, called The Empire. There are good guys, called The Rebellion. There are other good guys called Jedis. You can tell the difference because the bad guys usually wear helmets...

(We cut to a spaceship, where bad guys in white helmets -- see? -- are capturing a distressed damsel named Princess Leia.)

LEIA. (aside) I only hope my cry for help gets to a lonesome farm boy who will find inner strength enough to save me! And if he could find a ragtag bunch of misfits to help him, that would also be nice.

(Enter Darth Vader, the chief bad guy. He wears the evilest helmet of them all, plus an evil cape. He's got a deviated septum, so he constantly whistles through his nose.)

DARTH VADER. And now, princess, we shall discuss the location of the hidden Rebel base.

LEIA. Never!

DARTH VADER. Please.

LEIA. Not a chance!

DARTH VADER. C'mon.

LEIA. A thousand times, nay!

DARTH VADER. (whistles through his nose for a long moment) Take her away!

(Cut to young Luke Skywalker, a lonesome farm boy on a desert planet that's got a lousy climate for farming. So they probably don't grow much, frankly. He's visiting an old man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, with his robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, in tow.)

OBI-WAN. Son, have you given any thought to your future?

LUKE. Shucks -- I've been a farm boy for a while, but I don't really want to be a farm man. I have an interest in saving the universe.

C-3PO. We're doomed!

OBI-WAN. Sure. The Jedi Knights can help with that "universe" idea, and they give you money for college, too. You'd get three hots and a cot, and you'd learn to use a lightsaber. It's made from light. Never needs sharpening.

LUKE. (turning on a lightsaber and waving it about) Coooool...

OBI-WAN. (handing him some pamphlets) Look these over, and give me a call.

R2-D2. Beep bop borp!

(Cut to the inside of a space station. Beside Luke, Obi-Wan and the robots are new friends Han Solo, a ragtag misfit, and Chewbacca, a large Irish setter-pug mix.

OBI-WAN. Have you guys heard of The Force? All the cool people believe in it. It's a great way of life.

LUKE. I'm an Episcopalian.

OBI-WAN. Hear me out, now. The Force lets you move stuff with your mind, and you can read people's thoughts. (Hands him some pamphlets.) Read these over and let me know.

SOLO. That Force stuff is a lotta hokey superstitions. Right, Chewie?

CHEWBACCA. Bow wow.

(They run into Princess Leia, who is fleeing laser fire.)

C-3PO. We're doomed!

R2-D2. Blip borp gloop!

LUKE. My name is Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you!

LEIA. Thank you. (At Solo:) Who's that fetching rogue?

SOLO. Can it, Your Worship! (aside) We hook up later.

(Darth Vader enters, lightsaber at the ready.)

DARTH VADER. Luke -- join me in The Dark Side. It's like The Force, except depraved. (Hands him some pamphlets.) Look these over and we'll talk about them sometime.

OBI-WAN. Don't do it, Luke! They encourage tithing!

(Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan, then cuts off Luke's hand.)

DARTH VADER. Luke -- I am your father. You were raised a Dark Side, and you're staying a Dark Side, and that's final.

LEIA. Curse you, Vader!

DARTH VADER. I'm also your father.

LEIA AND LUKE. No! We kissed!

DARTH VADER. And let that be a lesson to everyone -- cross me, and I'll be your father so fast it'll make your head spin.

(Enter Jabba the Hutt, a giant slug; Ewoks, these irritating teddy-bear things; and Yoda, a puppet who's wicked into The Force.)

JABBA. Ishkoop jingla Solo!

EWOKS. Prrr! Click click!

YODA. Trust The Force, you must, Luke. The Dark Side, resist. A Jedi you are!

C-3PO. We're doomed!

LUKE. That Muppet's right. I'll never be like you, Vader.

(Using The Force, Luke snatches Obi-Wan's lightsaber and cuts off Vader's hand. Vader falls dying and Luke reveals Vader's face.)

LUKE. I'm sorry, Pop, but I had to save the universe.

DARTH VADER. (nose whistles laboriously) I feel so less evil without that damn helmet on.

(The Ewoks begin to dance irritatingly and sing an irritating song -- but I always turn it off around then.)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Tom and Leo Show, brought to you by the fresh scent of Glade Plug-Ins

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I'm having a blast following the Bristol County sheriff's race. Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson plus Fall River City Councilor Leo O. Pelletier equals madcap antics!

Thus far, their campaign can be charitably described as hostile, with both sides this close from settling the election after school in the parking lot.

I don't look forward to voting for either of them, mind you. I just like watching them.

Their campaign statements have great comic timing, like an old vaudeville routine. First, Hodgson, the straight-man, will say something buttoned-down and Republican ("I can charge any prisoner fees I want!"). Then, Pelletier will say that Hodgson is full of it ("He's full of it!"). Cue the laugh track.

Then Hodgson grows indignant, and gets off a good one ("Pelletier would charge a booking fee, too!"). Pelletier gets the last word and the biggest laughs ("You're a big crybaby!")--and then they're off the stage, leaving us begging for more.

But actually voting for either of them? I'll have to think about it.

On the plus side, Hodgson sure seems to dig being a sheriff, which is nice. He's always finding new and interesting ways to keep prisoners miserable, pursuing his vocation with holy fervor.

On the other hand, I've heard of people who openly loathe him and others who just loathe him in private, ranking his temperament somewhere between that of a Spanish Inquisitor and Snidely Whiplash.

I have no opinion, myself, because I've never met him. For all I know, Hodgson's quite charming--a real sly-boots with an infectious grin and a singing voice that gives ladies the vapors. I like to believe that everybody's nice at heart, even prison wardens who would lock inmates in rooms without toilets.

But I just can't vote for a guy who would take the Dickensian step of charging prisoners $5 in daily rent, all in a ploy to butter voters' bread with talk of "saving taxpayers money."

Besides, where's this mysterious tax relief? I'm a taxpayer, and I felt zero relief before a judge struck down his $5 fee. Or am I the only person who hasn't gotten his complimentary Hodgson Bucks in the mail yet?

I've never met Pelletier, either, but he seems like an agreeable, regular guy I could have a beer with. Though his primary platform plank is that he isn't Sheriff Hodgson. Actually, that's every plank, and for some, that's enough.

Pelletier is beloved in Fall River for speaking his mind, but as President Bush illustrates, there's a difference between "telling it like it is" and "not having that switch in one's head that makes one think about things before saying them."

Like a while back, some pro-Hodgson signs were vandalized. So rather than express empty regret, like a politician should, Pelletier scoffed to a Herald News reporter, "He's being a big crybaby."

That's his opinion, I suppose, but then he took a decidedly crybabyish tone: "I've lost more stuff than he has."

Elsewhere, he's accused Hodgson of spying on him and his supporters, and once published the license plate numbers of unmarked county vehicles on his Web site, a serious security breach. He took them down quickly--but then said, "He done me a favor. He advertised my Web site and advertised that he does undercover work."

Then Pelletier blamed Hodgson for contacting him in writing, instead of calling on the phone so he could have removed the numbers sooner.

So I'm stuck. Do I vote for the uptight one or the sloppy one?

That gives me a fantastic idea...

Why not elect both of them as sheriffs? Hodgson and Pelletier are the two great tastes that taste great together. They hate each other, but they'd have to work together--imagine how zany county law enforcement could be.

They could save some real taxpayer money by filming the whole thing and selling it as a TV sitcom, putting their boisterous repartee to good use. And I think we have a clip...

--

SCENE: The Bristol County House of Correction looms in the background as Pelletier and Hodgson both try to drive into the same parking space marked "Parking for Sheriff only." They get out of their cars and shake their heads ruefully as the frame freezes.

NARRATOR. Can two men share a prison ... without driving each other crazy?

(Cue the "Odd Couple" theme and the opening credits!)

(After a moment, we cut to inside the sheriffs' office. Leo is smoking a cigar with his feet on the desk, one side of his clip-on tie dangling freely from the collar. He's got a cursive L on his shirt. Leo's half of the room is filthy, but Tom's is immaculate, with a pretty little doily under the computer. Tom enters, mopping his brow, which takes a while--it extends pretty far back.)

TOM. Leo, call the National Guard. Some cad's purloined our law enforcement equipment.

LEO. Aw, keep your mustache on, Tommy. I sold mosta that junk.

TOM. (incredulous) What do you mean, I ask incredulously? My Mobile Command Unit? My fleet of amphibious tanks? Those sets of rocket-powered snowshoes I bought in case we had a prison break in a blizzard?

LEO. I held a yaad sale and used the money to buy a few extra toilets aroun' here.

TOM. What about my tactical nuclear missile? I was saving that!

LEO. I given it to the Salivation Army. Whatchoo buy that thing for, anyways? Parades?

TOM. (rubbing his forehead) Calgon, take me away...

LEO. Sheesh, you're the one always sayin' I should clean something up around here!

TOM. I meant your desk. Last week I saw an old corned-beef sandwich on there crawl over and throw itself in the trash. (He lifts Leo's feet off the desk and puts a coaster under them.) And for the last time, your smoking that cigar in here defeats the purpose of my using the Glade Plug-In.

(Tom sits heavily into his chair--which is actually an inmate on all fours covered with a sheet--and holds up a Glade Plug-In.)

TOM. (addressing the camera) "My Two Sheriffs" is brought to you by Glade Plug-Ins. Available in Mountain Brisk, Musky Ocean, Moldy Stucco, Roasted Pine and new Bananaberry. (to Leo:) I just saved some taxpayer money with that product placement.

(A knock on the door.)

LEO. Here's my pizza!

(Two inmates burst in, chained at the ankles. They're named Lenny and Squiggy.)

SQUIGGY. Hello!

LEO. (sputtering) The jailboids have busted loose! Get 'em!

(Leo draws his gun and fires. Luckily, Leo's only allowed to carry a decoy that shoots a flag with "BANG!" written on it.)

TOM. Remain calm, Leo. They're a work crew. (To Lenny and Squiggy:) All right, you maggots. Start earning your good behavior.

(Lenny and Squiggy start shoveling junk from Leo's desk into trash cans.)

LEO. Aw, c'mon, Tom! My poker buddies are gunna be here any minute--Murray and Speed and that little bald guy with the glasses! The racket these guys making, we won't have no fun!

TOM. Pfft. What a crybaby.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Convention tension

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Now that the Republican National Convention is over, I want to throw a blankie over my head, pop my thumb in my mouth and sleep until the debates.

If the RNC was any indication, we're not going to get anything of consequence from the Republicans this election, except for freezer-burnt 2000 convention leftovers like that old "compassionate conservatism" joke, whiny carping about who's weaker than whom, and platitude after tedious platitude about the nobility of spreading freedom by gunpoint.

If I'm a big crankypants, it's my own fault. I'm hungry at the moment. Also, the other day, when President Bush said he was going to use his speech to outline how his potential second term would be a success, I believed him. I must stop doing that.

Anyway, let's put the Republican convention to rest. I suggest we take extra precautions by garlanding ourselves with garlic and driving a stake through its heart. That should do the trick for about four years or so. While we're all whetting our whittling knives, let’s read my diary entries that I wrote throughout the convention coverage. Fair warning: If I digress, it's because the convention's menu of corn, saccharine and vitriol made me logy.

--

Monday

Dear diary:
Today, the convention opened with the traditional "arresting of the peacenik," a time-honored ritual as old as the GOP itself.

Among the myriad disgruntleds protesting at the convention are anarchist groups. The word anarchy comes from the Greek, meaning "white suburban kid with dreadlocks." They advocate a complete rejection of government. Kind of like Libertarians, but anarchism is a phase many practitioners thankfully grow out of.

Among the convention speakers today was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who opened his remarks with typical humility, by crowning New York "the capital of the world." Yes, friends--this is why they hate us.

Later on, Rudy said that blaming America and Israel for the Middle East's troubles "does not relieve the plight of even one woman in Iran. It does not give a decent living to a single soul in Syria. It certainly does not stop the slaughter of African Christians in the Sudan." Then again, diary, we haven't done any of those things, either, so I guess we'll call it even.

--

Tuesday

Dear diary:

For God's sake, can Arnold Schwarzenegger get through a speech without sticking a reference to one of his movies in there? What's the matter with that nincompoop? Does he think we'll all forget he was a movie star if he doesn't remind us about it every fucking chance he gets? "One of my movies was called 'True Lies.' It's what the Democrats should have called their convention." It made me want to vomit.

My favorite part, diary, was when he admonished the crowd to not be "economic girlie-men," a splendid piece of oratory reminiscent of the great Patrick Henry's words, "Give me liberty or shut your fuckin' piehole."

After him, the Bush daughters, Barbara and Jenna, were hoisted onto the wagon for the night--kicking and screaming the whole way, no doubt--and made to duplicate the appearance and speech patterns of real-live young people. I have to admit, in a hypothetical match between them and John Kerry's daughters, the Bush girls win a giggling contest hands-down.

First lady Laura Bush capped the night. But something about her scares me, diary. She seems like she was frozen in 1951 and only recently thawed. I bet she still calls movies "talkies." I must ask her if I ever meet her.

--

Wednesday

Dear diary:

Today, Trash John Kerry Day kicked off with Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia giving his acceptance speech after winning the Crotchety, Self-Righteous, Ignorant Old Windbag Award for 2004.

He's about 143 years young, but he still wrote a speech that sounds as if it were written by an overexcited teenager drunk on his own brashness: "(Kerry) is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?" Oh you kid!

Of course, Dick Cheney, as secretary of defense, cut some of the defense programs that Zell accused Kerry of killing. And Kerry in speech after speech, including his acceptance speech at the DNC, has never said "he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations." And tonight, to Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Zell called Kerry a "war hero." But whatever.

Later, Vice President Cheney accepted the presidential nomination. Then he sleepwalked through another Kerry harangue, droopy-lidded and muttering. Five minutes into it, I was begging the Bush daughters to come back and teach him how to giggle.

--

Thursday

Dear diary:

Last day of the convention. Pretty soon, all the confetti will be swept away, the balloons popped, the delegates returned to whatever ogre grottoes they emerged from.

If ever there was a day to persuade me to vote Republican, this was it.

This wasn't it.

For one thing, President Bush's speech was full of holes. I kept waiting for him to follow up on that "athletes shouldn't take steroids" thing he first brought up at the State of the Union speech. He never did. Some things must be beyond executive branch power.

Then, twice during the speech, yahoos interrupted him and were whisked away. If only the authorities were as adept at snagging Osama bin Laden--who was never mentioned, by the way, not even once.

When he finally got rolling, though, the clever Bush laid out a domestic strategy that looks dynamite. Simply use the same campaign promises he made in 2000 but never kept: better health care, more jobs, a quality education for everyone. It worked for him the first time, so what the hell?

Of course, Bush never specified how he's going to pay for any of the massive government projects he's promising, particularly when he's running record budget deficits. Because then he'd have to admit that he's actually promising massive government projects--and, diary, Republicans like Bush always say the government is not the solution, but the problem.

But just because he says government is a problem, that doesn't make Bush an anarchist. It just makes him confused, diary. He doesn't quite have the dreadlocks for anarchy.
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