Friday, September 29, 2006

"Lost" Viewing In Progress: Do Not Disturb

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Fair warning: Don’t call me on Wednesday night. I will yell at you — I will yell things people can’t ever take back.

“Lost,” easily the best show on television, starts Season 3 that night at 9 p.m. I am a massive dork and cannot be interrupted during even one second of its broadcast, or I will become belligerent and want to hurt myself and others. So you know.

But don’t call before 9 p.m., either. I’ll be making nachos.

If I don’t have my nachos, I can’t enjoy “Lost.” I will become belligerent and want to hurt myself and others, like I said.

And actually, don’t call afterward. I’ll be thinking about “Lost.” After a really great episode of “Lost,” I like to sit on my couch and cogitate for a while. Sometimes I say, “Wow,” or, “Hmf!” It may seem like nothing to you, but inside I’m solving the mysteries of the universe. It takes a few minutes.

Being an expert in “Lost” like this guy (I’m pointing at myself right now) is a lot of work. “Lost” is not for casual fans. I don’t want to call it complicated, but let’s just say if you find the plot of “Dancing With the Stars” hard to follow, you will probably not like “Lost.”

Getting the full “Lost” flavor means engaging in extratelevisual activities — things like research! Hours and hours of research! What’s that person saying? Oops! It’s Korean — what, you don’t know Korean? What’s up with that cool little logo that shows up everywhere? Looks like you’ll have to study the I Ching! Want to know what really happened in Season 2, Episode 14? Hope you can read Egyptian hieroglyphics!

You have to listen to at least three podcasts a week. For beginners and intermediates, there's The Lost Podcast With Jay and Jack; the more advanced watcher, LostCasts; for a dose of smarm, The Official Lost Podcast. You have to go on Internet forums, watch and rewatch episodes obsessively, slow down the footage, break out the audio editing software and reverse people’s dialogue. I mean, you could just watch the show. If you want to miss everything. Like a chump.

People who aren’t geeks like me ask if they can just “jump in.” I laugh and push imaginary hornrims up the bridge of my nose. Sorry, no. You can’t. It’s like jumping into a later season of “Three’s Company,” one of the Nurse Terry seasons, and not knowing who Jack and Janet are talking about that one time they mention Chrissy.

If you’ve never seen an episode of “Lost,” do your body a favor and catch up. The first two seasons are available on DVD. Get thee to Wal-Mart. Download them off Apple’s iTunes service. Run, do not walk, to ... OK, I was about to say “Netflix,” but you don’t have to run or walk anywhere.

Since there are just a few days left, I’ll even provide you with a cheat sheet to help decipher some of the most puzzling clues:

--

Q. I’m confused! Can you please explain the plot of the show in 10 words or less?

A. No. This is what I’m talking about — the commitment this show requires. I can do it in 11 if I leave out the articles: “Plane fall down, go boom. Island very mysterious. Oh no — monster!


Q. It seems like there are a lot of characters, aren’t there? Can you please give me a detailed—

A. Yes, there are a lot of characters! Thanks for your question!


Q. That an Arab guy?

A. Ah! That would be Sayid Jirrah, an ex-Republican Guard member from Iraq who was caught by U.S. forces including Kate the fugitive’s father (not her real father, who she killed, but her presumed real father) during the Gulf War and taught to become a torturer, and the CIA enlisted him as an undercover operative to obtain information about terrorist attacks by giving him the secret location of a woman he loves who he helped escape from Baghdad, that woman later ending up in California and getting her house inspected by John Locke, who at this time still had the use of his legs, which he lost then got back again mysteriously, so getting back to the torturer thing Sayid was taught by CIA operative Kelvin Inman, who later it turned out was the very same Kelvin who took Desmond in off the shore when he crashed his boat on the island during a round-the-world sailing race to impress billionaire financier Charles Widmore into letting him marry his daughter, Penelope, who it turns out may have located the island — and so Kelvin taught Desmond to push the button that safely disperses the electromagnetic charge that builds up in the Swan station every 108 minutes, pretty much as a ruse to get him to continue said button-pushing while he escapes on Desmond’s boat by telling Desmond that there’s a sickness which may or may not be real on the island and so he can’t leave the hatch, Kelvin at some point not yet clarified having left the CIA to join the Dharma Initiative, a group which intends to save humanity from self-destruction. But no, the actor who plays Sayid is actually Indian.


Q. Dear Dan: I think that doctor character, Jack, is one of the sexiest men on television! Sincerely, your wife.

A. That’s not a question, and no, he isn’t.


Q. I have a theory that the island is actually not an island, but in fact they’re stuck in an elaborate amusement park-type scenario. What do you think?

A. It does explain why the survivors have to wait in such long lines for the Tilt-a-Whirl.


Q. So much mystery on this island revolves around the “smoke monster” that occasionally terrorizes the survivors. Is it a dinosaur?

A. Yup.


Q. Who are these evil “Others” who live on the island?

A. Usually, the Others appear clad in filthy rags, smeared with dirt and wearing no shoes, kidnapping survivors and threatening their lives. They’re clearly West Virginian carnies operating the vast, nefarious Six Flags that is the island (see above). Why are they so upset? The crash survivors never paid admission.


Q. What storylines can we look forward to in Season 3?

A. I hope they solve the mystery of why all the men have the same short, two-day growth of stubble every day when they never seem to shave. But the big plot twist will be when the stoner (Charlie) teams up with the dog (Vincent) to solve the mystery of the entire island (haunted amusement park). It'll turn out that Mean Old Man Alvar Hanso has been masquerading as the guy who's always lugging some heavy object from one end of the beach to the other — and he would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those snooping survivors. On that theme, the producers have said new characters will be introduced — my best guess is either a much smaller, more annoying dog, or the Harlem Globetrotters.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly: The complete Black Fonzie archives are now online

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Hello there! Now available for your skimming pleasure are the (I think) complete archives of this column, dating back to June 2003 with a total of 120 columns at the time of this writing (6:31 p.m., Sept. 15, 2006). Feel free to browse any time you like, although many of them are an embarrassment.

If you don't want to browse, at least appreciate the way the listing of months in the right-hand column looks like a graceful sine-wave. Slowly scroll up and down for the full effect. It's fun!

Sorry, no jokes today — try some advice instead

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This is probably the most difficult job in the world, ever.

There, I said it.

I recently counted how many of these things I’ve written, going way back to 2003, and it’s about 120. At around 900 words per column, that’s 108,000 words. Figure an average of 11 words per sentence and you get 9,818 sentences. There’s probably a joke every sentence and a half in there. So let’s say 6,545 jokes, more or less. I have one joke left in me, and it's not very good. You sure you want to hear it? OK. Here it is. A tray of muffins is baking in the oven. One muffin says to another muffin, “Whew — kind of hot in here!” The other muffin says, “Holy shit! A talking muffin!” See? Do you see how challenging this is now? I'm tapped out!

Other kinds of columnists have it so much easier. Like sports writers. “Team beats team.” Boom. Pad it out a little and you’re cool. Political columnists? You get paid to yell about how wrong someone else is. Most people do that already for free. Mike Reagan has made a tidy living writing weekly variations on the theme “People who oppose the war in Iraq are parasites who should be boiled alive, minced, strained through a fine cheesecloth and sold to the Alpo company to feed the dogs of the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.”

Just for one day, I’d like to have one of those columns where I can kick my shoes off and relax. Like Dear Abby. She’s got it made, that one. Just sits around waiting for the dysfunction to roll in. Then it’s a quick dose of common sense, a plug for her Web site, and she’s off to the day spa to have her face reupholstered.

I could do it, too. Not the face thingy — the advice thingy. I love telling people how they should behave. And they already write most of your text! Less work!

That’s it. Can’t stop me. I’m going to be Dear Abby for a day. Below is a sampling of what it would be like for me in that job, dealing with a proverbial pu-pu platter of personal problems.

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Dear Flabby:

My husband and I have been having some marital difficulties lately (I’ll call him “Quentin”). Anyway, whenever I bring up the subject of children with Sean, he makes some silly excuse to leave the conversation. Last time, it was his buckle shoes that needed shining. Before that, he wanted to smoke “a wee bit of” his pipe instead. Flabby, I have seen him spend hours carving a new shillelagh out of an oak limb, but he won’t talk to his own wife about their future!

It’s not about whether we can afford it. He’s got a stash of hundreds of gold coins socked away in an iron cauldron. I’ve seen it. I think he’s just afraid to commit to a lasting, meaningful relationship. What can I do, Flabby? — Childless in Chicago


Dear Childless:

Face the facts. Your husband is a leprechaun, the fabled imp of Irish legend. And he will always be a leprechaun. You knew that going into the relationship, didn’t you?

It may have been fun for a fling, but many women find leprechauns just don’t want to give up their carefree lifestyles that easily. You can’t change him — not unless he’s willing to change himself.

Sit down with him and make him talk to you. Stuff him in a pillowcase if you have to, or a burlap sack. Tell him your feelings about motherhood. He may want to scamper off into the glen from whence he came, but he must at least validate your emotions. If you both decide to end the relationship, just remember that you were lucky to have any time with him at all.

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Dear Flabby:

I am a 12-year-old girl. My used-to-be best friend is a total snob just because she’s 13 now! She says I’m just a stupid kid and won’t play Barbies anymore no matter how many times I ask nicely. What can I do to make her hang out with me again? —Still Not a Teenager


Dear Still:

Have you ever considered that it’s actually you who’s the snob? Snobs think they’re better than other people. By thinking your friend has some sort of obligation to hang out with you, that means you think your feelings are more important than hers. Maybe she hates you for no reason. This is America. She can do that.

Anyway, long story short, your wanting her to hang out with you when she clearly doesn’t care for that means you think your happiness is more important than hers, which makes you a snob. And writing to me for advice like this instead of talking to her makes you also a conceited two-face. Thanks for your letter!

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Dear Flabby:

My manager, who I’ll call “Unnamed Manager at Westbrook Insurance Co. on Pear Street, downtown Akron,” has been acting inappropriately to me and some of the other women. He hugs us all the time for being good employees. It's a painful, groping hug if you file forms correctly, save paper clips instead of throwing them away — even doing simple things get a hug, like having legible penmanship. I suspect it’s just an excuse for him to press himself against us, because most times he's got a major hardon, and the rest of the time you can tell by the way he shifts from foot to foot that he's working toward one. Also, he rarely wears pants, and this is the only insurance agency I’ve worked at where the dress code is a micro-mini, riding crop, and go-go boots. Whenever us ladies go out for lunch, he always asks us to bring him back a "tube steak sandwich and a dildo pickle," which hasn't worked since an embarassing episode at D'Angelo.

I fear retaliation for speaking out. How can I tell him that I and my husband, who owns the insurance company and works in the next office over, find his unwanted advances a little perverty? Sign me: —Richard Cuthbert of Westbrook Insurance Co. Is A Sleazeball


Dear Sleazeball:

You are the victim of a sexual harassment predator. Do not hesitate to confront him. Try a phone book to the bridge of his nose. Preferably a heavy one, over and over, until this solves the issue.

--

Dear Flabby:

Settle a bet with me and a friend. What is the proper etiquette for sending a thank-you card: immediately, or after one week, when you've had time to enjoy the gift? — Curious Georgina


Dear Curious: Wow. You guys are actually betting on that? That’s, like, the dorkiest frigging bet ever. What are the stakes, a hot cup of cocoa? Holy Christ. To think you actually had to mull this over, type it up, print it out, put it in an envelope, spend 39 cents on a stamp, mail it, and drag the United States Postal Service and me into your sick game.

Listen: Find a coin. Flip it. There’s your answer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bow down to your Master of Fine Arts

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Thus begins the first September in several years where I won’t have to begin school in some way. I’m done with elementary school, middle, high school, undergrad and graduate studies. I wish I could be depressed about it, but I’m too tired.

There’s no more reason for me to buy a new Mead five-subject notebook — the kind with the hard plastic cover to prevent fraying and bending, thank you very much. No more ogling the electric pencil sharpeners. I could go to the mall and stock up on fancy new sneakers to impress my friends on the first day, but we all know I’d just be lying to myself.

There’s something about the cold, leafy smell in the early September air that gives me a terrific yen to study, and also to consume many, many products available at your local mall that are, at best, peripherally related to schoolwork. I can’t help it! This is a solid two decades of behavioral conditioning I’m talking about. You ring the bell, Pavlov’s dog salivates. You tell me it’s Labor Day, I buy a new bookbag.

These No-School September Blues are part of the reason why I went to graduate school in the first place. Does anyone of sound mind really need a master’s degree of fine arts in creative writing? I'm not sure anymore. All I know is, the bloodsucking leeches at Sallie Mae who are cashing my student loan checks are having prime rib for lunch right now.

But still, I wake up every morning these past few weeks and reflexively wonder if I remembered to buy enough ink to print out my term paper on aesthetics and capitalism. Then I realize, shit, no — I didn’t even write the damn thing yet. Then I realize: Wait. I'm out of school. I don’t have to write that kind of paper anymore. Then I think, “Maybe I should write a humor column about aesthetics and capitalism.” Then I realize: You would sincerely hate that. I’m looking at Ph.D. programs, long story short.

Rather than spend this month wandering up and down the back-to-school aisle at CVS, trying to justify my buying a Hello Kitty lunchbox, I’ve decided to channel my malaise into a more positive, less creepy way. So kids: here’s a handy guide to surviving these crucial first few weeks of school! Clip and save! With a new pair of scissors. They had some nice ones at Wal-Mart.


For elementary school kids

- It doesn’t matter who you are. Something you do in the next few weeks is going to brand you for the rest of your adolescence. Try to wrap your mind around the terrifying significance of this for a moment. Until you grow up, you’re going to be known as The [fill in the blank] Kid. The Rich Kid. The Smelly Kid. The Peed-Her-Pants-During-The-Spelling-Bee Kid. The Toothless Kid. The Permanent-Snot-Bubble Kid. The Kid With The Show-offy 128-Color Crayon Set. The Kid Who Thinks He’s A Ninja Turtle. Choose wisely.

- If you don’t learn anything else, learn your times table. I’m serious about this. Not a day goes by when you won’t need to know your times table off the top of your head.

- Long division, on the other hand, is a quaint throwback to a simpler time in American history, like when people keep an antique butter churn in the foyer. Just get a calculator.

- But you don’t need a cell phone for any reason at your age.

- If you’re getting picked on by a bully, ride it out. Nothing you could do will equal the humiliation that life will pile onto him. As a bully gets older, he’ll get into drugs, knock up his teenage girlfriend, maybe turn to petty crime and end up in jail for a few months. Sooner or later, he’ll be utterly miserable and turn old and fat and lose his hair in an unattractive pattern. He'll be underappreciated at his low-wage job, and he and his wife will hate each other like poison but cling to their travesty of a relationship because of fear of loneliness and because they need each other's laughable income. Rotten bully kids like he was will knock over his mailbox and steal his newspaper and shoot off firecrackers in his driveway at odd hours of the morning, and he may raise several of them himself, little miniature rotten bullies who mooch off him until they're well past their 30s. They’ll shuttle him off to a nursing home because they're "too busy" to care for him, though they're defensive when it comes to explaining how, and they won’t ever visit him, not even on Christmas, except to skim what’s left of his money. Just give it time!


For middle school kids

- Starting a new school year can be very stressful for you when it comes to worrying about whether or not you’re cool. Avoid this by remembering that none of your classmates are cool and neither are you. Sorry, but technically you only become cool when you can drive.

- You’re going to want an awesome pair of expensive sneakers for the first day. Otherwise, you’re going to be called The Ratty-Shoes Kid. But for the love of God, don’t wear them for the first time on the first day, because they’ll be all shiny and white, and it’ll be obvious that you’re trying to impress people with your new pair of expensive sneakers. Then you’ll be called The Blindingly-White-New-Shoes Kid. Instead, buy them a few weeks before school starts and then scuff them up a little bit so they look like you wear them all the time. But not too much or they’ll get ratty. Is this making sense?

- Every year, tens of thousands of suckers nationwide are swindled out of their money by actually buying their own protractors. Don’t become a statistic.



For high school kids

- Wash your face every day, multiple times a day, with soap and water. Seriously. Make the time. You’ll thank me later.

- If you begin to suspect that one of your new teachers hates you, you might be right. They don’t get paid to like you. However, you’re still probably doing something very wrong, so therefore it’s your fault.

- You, on the other hand, are not obligated to like every book they make you read. If you’re not having fun reading “The Scarlet Letter,” for example, keep in mind that that book is wretched melodrama not worth your precious time on this globe. I know. I read it. You are obligated to read it, though, if only to understand why the Old White Bastards in charge of America think it’s so goddam fantastic.

- If you’re a geek, write this down on a little slip of paper and keep it on you every day: “The geeks eventually win.” One day, it will come true. Actually, if you’re someone who picks on geeks, do the same thing.


For college kids

- If you think drinking makes you more of an adult, then drink the way real adults drink. Have a glass of cheap zinfandel with dinner and fall asleep in front of the television.

- Unlike Middle Eastern wars, a college career must have a viable “exit strategy.”

- Incoming freshmen, take note. You’re worried about the thousands of other freshmen your age you’ll be stuck in college with. Specifically, you’re worried about how you’ll stand out. How you’ll make an impression on the universe. How you’ll change the world in a way no one else could. Here’s a tip: Dye your hair a funny color, like pink! Nobody else will think of it, I swear!

- Then, dye it back and get a job.
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