Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: Help Yourself to Some Coffee and Bars...and Murder

Confession: I was in a pageant when I was ten years old.

My family moved to Alabama from Wisconsin and I guess pageants were what ten year old girls did in Dothan, Alabama so I entered. I did not win but I did get a trophy for participation. I hate trophies for participation. Anyway, pageants didn't stick for me (shocker) but that didn't mean that I wasn't fascinated with them growing up. I, like most Americans, watched Miss America every year and rooted for Miss Michigan and Miss State We Lived In (Alabama, Louisiana, or Virginia). In Alabama, we also had Azalea Trail Maids and the Azalea Trail Queen. These girls would sit outside the houses along the Azalea Trail in the spring and serve as really pretty lawn ornaments. I'm sure the official description was more like "Hostesses of the Spring" or something equally as horrifying. However, when I was ten I thought they were glamorous and beautiful and the only thing to aspire to was to be an Azalea Trail Queen.

My aspirations have changed since then but that doesn't mean that I don't love a good pageant movie; made for tv movies about beauty queens in peril are phenomenal. The first Miss Congeniality is a triumph. But one pageant movie says everything we need it to say about beauty pageants, small towns, and why we do the things we do to succeed. That movie is Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Never heard of Drop Dead Gorgeous? I'm not surprised. The movie was released in 1999 (the same year as another amazing dark teen movie, Jawbreaker) and was a cinematic flop. But like most flops, it has gone on to become a cult movie. The write, Lona Williams, was a former pageant contestant from Rosemount, MN. She wrote a dark and hilarious movie about beauty pageants that was probably way ahead of its time. We hadn't yet seen the world of Toddlers & Tiaras when this movie came out. Maybe things would have been different for Drop Dead Gorgeous if we had. Or maybe it wouldn't be as glorious and magical as it is.

There is so much to talk about in this movie so let's get started. Grab yourself some coffee and bars and settle in for Drop Dead Gorgeous.
  • The movie is set up to be a documentary about the American Teen Princess Pageant. Much like the mockumentaries of the great Christopher Guest, Drop Dead Gorgeous is dark, odd, and hilarious. 
  • Adam West is the celebrity of note in the greatest opening video montage ever. The American Teen Princess Pageant recruitment video has everything - a great voice-over, Adam West, amazing music, and really old looking teenage girls.
  • "Iris, you taped your shows over it." Iris is Gladys's (Kirstie Alley) sidekick. She and Allison Janney practically steal this movie. You may recognize the actress, Mindy Sterling, from the Austin Powers movies.
  • Say what you will about Kirstie Alley but you can't deny that she is flawless in this movie. She nails the role of Gladys Leeman - I dare say she is the epitome of Minnesota nice. She has some of the best lines in the movie and you can tell she's slightly off from the minute you meet her. Also, she introduces us to coffee and bars within the first ten minutes of the movie.
  • Gladys: No, I think you boys are gonna find something a litle bit different here in Mount Rose. For one thing, we're all God-fearing folk, every last one of us. And you will not find a "back room" in our video store. No, no, that filth is better left to the sin cities. Iris: AKA Minneapolis St. Paul.
  • I can quote this entire movie and often do it with a fairly convincing Minnesota accent. Sometimes after I've watched this movie, I catch myself using this accent for no reason at all. "You'd think they'd have the parking lot of America to go with the Mall of America." (FUN FACT: The mall is actually the Eden Prairie Center not the Mall of America.)
  • Let's meet the contestants:
    • Leslie Miller - It's Amy Adams! This was Amy's film debut and she plays the cheerleader perfectly. She's funny and fun to watch. We all went to high school with Leslie Miller.
    • Amber Atkins - Kirsten Dunst is perfect for this role. She's got Amber's hopefulness and pluck down perfectly. I love her scenes with Ellen Barkin (her mom) and who didn't want to dress like her after seeing this movie?
    • Rebecca "Becky" Leeman - Denise Richards is also perfection as the town's mean girl and the "heir" to the crown. Gladys is her mom and she has some great lines too. "Jesus loves a winner" is a personal favorite.
    • Tess Weinhaus - I was probably the Tess Weinhaus of the pageant I was in; I'm totally cool with this. Memorable line, "They remade my belly with skin from my butt." (after she was mauled by a dog)
    • Lisa Swenson - Seeing Brittany Murphy always makes me sad. She's lovely as Lisa and is a genuinely good person. "It's just what you do" - her response when asked why she's in the pageant.
    • Molly Howard - you just have to watch the scenes with her adopted family. That is all.
    • Michelle Johnson - There has to be an actress. And of course she does a monologue from Solyent Green as her talent
    • Janelle Betz - I usually refer to her as ASL/Interpretive Dance Girl
    • Tammy Curry - star athlete, President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, Becky's direct competition. She has to go.
  • One of my favorite things about this movie is all the odd side characters: the clueless mayor, the funeral director, Iona Hildebrandt (1945 winner now librarian), Chloris Klinghagen (the dance teacher), Brett Clemmens (the ill-fated love interest), Hank and Harold, the other judges (Jean is writer Lona Williams) - this is a town of awesome. We should all move here.
  •  Tammy Curry's out - her death is described as "odd and gross." At her funeral, we're introduced to the importance of jello salad in the grieving process.
  • The current Miss Mount Rose, Mary Johanson. The dark tone of this movie is one of the reasons that it was not widely received. Mary's part in the story, as the clearly anorexic current queen, is just one of the dark elements of the movie. Her performance at the pageant is hard to watch but also more of a commentary on the idea of beauty than most people probably want to face in a comedy.
  • Amber: "Guys get out of Mount Rose all the time on hockey scholarships... or prison." Amber wants to be the next Diane Sawyer and sees pageants as a way out of Mount Rose. Admirable.
  • Ellen Barkin and Allison Janney as Annette and Loretta - they are a perfect duo and should be in more movies together or perhaps a sitcom. I would watch them in anything as long as they were being as awesome as they are here. They're perfectly trailer park and it's so good. Annette is the perfect foil for Gladys; in fact they competed against each other for the American Teen Princess crown.
  • Iona: "Lutefisk is codfish that's been salted and soaked in lye for a week or so. It's best with lots of butter"
  • Has anyone ever been cow-tipping? It seems like an incredible waste of time even if you live in a farm town and there is literally nothing else to do.
  • More deaths - Amber at the funeral parlor is perfect (besides the tap dancing). There's also a fire - this movie has so much going on. "Ruined a brand new pair of Lee Press-ons." Annette's reaction to the fire at her trailer.
  • Amber: My mom never hid the fact that my dad chose his career over us. What was it she always said? Loretta: Once a carnie, always a carnie. Amber: Mom still cries when she sees a tilt-a-whirl or a fat lady in a tube top.
  • Best Gladys line and words to live by: American Teen Princesses do not cross their legs like streetwalkers. (to Leslie) Excuse me, Miss Penthouse '98, put your knees together. I could drive a boat show in there. 
  • Can you name and spell all 50 states? I'll give you a few minutes to try.
  • Finally it's pageant day! Another contestant has been lost, Amber's talent costume has gone missing, and Hank painted the ladders for the physical fitness number on the day of the pageant. Still, the show must go on. Some highlights:
    • Tess and the largest ball of twine in the opening number
    • Mary's lip sync performance is just too much
    • Becky's song and dance
    • Amber tap dances up a storm
    • Gladys and her culottes - "She had a big ass then and she's got a big ass now." 
  • Of course, we all know who's going to win. We've known that since we met Becky but it's fun to see the shock ripple through the crowd as she's crowned and the mayor sings an incredibly awkward song. 
  • The parade:
    • Small town parades are the best - from the Shriners to the old ladies with fake musical instruments to the militia families, everyone has a spot in the parade.
    • The giant swan float - "like a glistening lake"
    • The explosion is totally unexpected and leads to the greatest line in the movie, "The swan ate my baby!"
    • The collision of the COPS film crew and our film crew - great moment
  • Of course Gladys is the bad guy. The 90s gave us the Texas cheerleader mom case so why wouldn't Gladys be the responsible party? What's amazing about this event is that we still have more time left in the movie. What else could possibly happen?
  • It turns out lots - Amber is crowned Mount Rose American Teen Princess and goes to state. It's at state that Nora Dunn and Mo Gaffney make cameo appearances (that are epically awesome), Loretta gets lucky, and a freak food poisoning accident (or was it an accident?) sends Amber to nationals.
  • Question: what do you think happens to cameras that are used during movies? Loretta and Annette both use disposable cameras. Do they have real film in them and what happens to the film? I bet there are some great photos from this movie.
  • Does anyone else wonder why nationals didn't contribute any money to the state competition? Didn't any think to contact Sarah Rose Cosmetics to see what was going on? It would have saved lives if you think about it.
  • Joan Jett's version of "Love is All Around" - perfect way to end the movie as we learn the fates of many of the contestants (who survived). Sometimes it pays to be at the right place at the right time.
There is so much more I could have covered but really, you should just watch it for yourself. I recommend baking up some delicious bars to get the full experience. I posted two of my favorite recipes for you to try.

I leave you with the wonderful words of Loretta, just in case you ever doubt something in your life:

Loretta: You are a good person. Good things happen to good people.
Amber: Really?
Loretta: No. It's pure bullshit, sweetie. You're lucky as hell, so you might as well enjoy it.

Quotes from IMDB

These are the bars you're looking for...

In honor of this weekend's Lazy Movie Weekend post, I'm sharing two of my favorite bar recipes. Call them what you will - dessert bars, cookie bars, squares - no matter the name, they're delicious. As portrayed in Drop Dead Gorgeous, bars are the perfect dessert for any occasion; American Teen Princess Pageant sign up day, funerals, awkward moments in the gym with the wrestling team, and right before your daughter meets her fate on a glistening swan float. Bars are the answer to all of our problems.

I like to call my two recipes "classic" bars - nothing showy (just like our physical fitness outfits). The recipes have similar bases but are slightly different so don't go crazy and make them the same way.

Butterscotch Pecan Bars
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-11 oz package butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped pecans (technically optional but they really do enhance the bar flavor)

Preheat over to 350. Grease a 13x9x2 baking pan.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Add eggs, beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in butterscotch chips and pecans. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and the center is set. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Makes about 24 bars (depending on how large you cut them.

The Only Chocolate Chip Bars You'll Ever Need to Make (I need a shorter name)
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1-12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional; I prefer walnuts with chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 15x10 jelly roll pan*.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a larger mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Gradually add in the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen bars.

*A jelly roll pan is similar to a cookie sheet except that the sides of the pan are usually an inch high so the pan is designed for baking sheet cakes and sponge cakes. These work really well for bars recipes too.

Waiting patiently to be cut - my apartment smells like butterscotch and chocolate.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Return of the Old Lady Concert Rules

There is nothing I like more than going to summer concerts. There's something about listening to music, usually outdoors, on a warm summer evening that makes me feel young and invincible. I remember my first outdoor concert was Huey Lewis & the News one summer in Detroit when I was 12 or 13. I even remember wearing these really ridiculous earrings to that concert. I have no idea why it was important that I wear them but I know it was a big deal. Anyway, I don't remember much else about that concert except that I got to stay up late and hang out with my older brother. Ever since that show, I've made a habit of seeing several shows over the summer months and this summer is no exception.

This year's lineup:
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (July 23 at Constitution Hall)
  • KISS & Def Leppard (July 25 at Jiffy Lube Live)
  • Heart (July 29 at Wolf Trap)
  • Santana & Rod Stewart (August 19 at the Verizon Center)
  • Motely Crue & Alice Cooper (August 22 at Jiffy Lube Live)
It's sort of a random group of concerts but in my head it makes absolute sense. I'm hoping that KISS plays this song although I'm sure they won't.

I have two go-to concert buddies: my brother, Scott and my friend, Anita. I've gone to many concerts with them both over the years including the time all three of us went to see They Might Be Giants at Ram's Head in Baltimore. They're both ideal concert buddies in that they'll go to just about any concert if asked even if they're not familiar with the band. Scott had never even heard of The Decemberists prior to seeing them with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a few years ago. He liked them enough to go see them with me again the following year. And Anita - she knows exactly four songs by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds but is going to see them with me on Wednesday anyway. I'm hopeful that she'll enjoy the band as much as I do.

What makes Scott and Anita exceptional concert buddies is their adherence to and support of my Old Lady Concert Rules. In fact, they've both helped to create some of these rules over the years. Just to be clear; just because I have concert rules does not mean that I am a killer of fun. I love fun and love concerts and the Rules help to ensure that we all do, in fact, have fun. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do and I enjoy it more when people around me aren't acting like morons or like we're sitting in their living room. Yes, we all enjoy live shows in our own ways but I feel like we need a social contract we can all agree to when we enter the arena or auditorium. That way, we all have fun and no one gets punched in the throat.

So in the interest of fun, let's review the Old Lady Concert Rules.
  1. Don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy. (Thank you Jeremy Piven in PCU for this one.)
  2. No large bags or backpacks in the pit or other standing room shows. I get that in DC most of us come from work to shows during the week but do you really need that backpack while standing at the 9:30 Club? Doesn't your office allow you to lock up your laptop or something? I'm pretty short so your backpack and my face are probably at the same level so if you do have to bring it at least be aware of the people around you when you're dancing or whatever.
  3. I don't like to stand at concerts. This is why I buy seats whenever possible. I don't sit on the lawn and I don't buy tickets in the pit when there are perfectly good seats to be had. If you also spent the money for a seat, SIT IN IT. Unless every other human in the arena is standing, sit down.
  4. More pit/standing room etiquette: If you are late, stay to the back of the room. I got here at a reasonable time to get close to the stage and you should have too. This is especially jerky if the show has already started and you're elbowing your way to the front with your stupid backpack. Don't tell me your friend is at the front; she's not. You're lying. Show me your friend and I'll let you pass as long as I have confirmation that you know the person you've sort of gestured at. 
  5. Someone has to be the DD for most shows. If you are that friend, congratulations you are a genuinely good person. I hope your friends do you a solid and take their turns at some point. However, being the DD isn't just about driving and making sure they get home safely. You have now been elected the babysitter of the group. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this but it's true. So when your dudes start spilling beer on people and generally being jerks in public, as the sober one, people are going to look to you to rein them in. It's not fair but know that you have a special place in concertgoer heaven reserved for you. 
  6. If you aren't the DD of your group and you've decided to imbibe at the show, please make sure to respect those around you by apologizing if you spill beer on them (especially in their hair - not that this has ever happened to me), know your limits (you don't need that fifth shot of Fireball and a beer chaser), and most importantly watch for stairs. Concerts don't need to end in a trip to the emergency room and a broken nose.
  7. Respect the space around you. Even at outdoor shows, it's still not Woodstock and most people aren't interested in your dancing and space invasion. Dance all you want and dance like no one is watching but be respectful of those around you who are also dancing like no one is watching.
  8. Don't use words like "merch" and "gig"- you're not with the band. And even if you are it makes you sound pretentious. 
  9. Let's keep our cell phone use to a minimum. I like taking pictures of the shows I go to see as much as the next person but I also like watching the show that I'm seeing. So get your pictures done, take a selfie or two, and then put it away. Cell phones and lighters are not the same thing.
  10. Don't yell "Freebird." It's not funny, the band doesn't appreciate it, and chances are the vast majority of the audience doesn't get the reference anyway (depending on the show).
  11. Control the volume of your voice. This is especially true when you're at indoor shows at smaller venues; your voice carries and we can all hear you during breaks or softer songs. Listen to The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City for the perfect example of why this is a terrible thing to do at shows. Even if you're famous.
  12. And finally, I get that I missed all the great music because it was all made before I was born or when I was small but you know what, these bands and musicians are still playing and we can watch them right now. And it's awesome that we can. Don't ruin that experience just because you think the band has "sold out" or has new members or whatever. Remember what it was like the first time you saw that band and let people have their own version of that experience. 
There you have it - the Old Lady Concert Rules. None of these rules are difficult or impede on your fun.Y'all know I like being a good citizen so these rules are just an extension of my love of civil societies and being nice to one another. That's it - I'm not here to ruin your fun.

I leave you with the immortal words of AC/DC. Get out there and be a good rock and roll citizen!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom, Part II

Read Part I of this Pickles adventure.

A few days later

Pickles watched her human get ready for work. Over the last several days, Pickles noticed that her human had stopped leaving things out on tables and counters. There was less stuff for her to knock over as she continued her battle with the bathroom cabinet. Since the first day, Pickles had continued to knock things over when she wasn’t able to get the door open. Yesterday she added unrolling a roll of toilet paper. Her human had been so angry that she wouldn’t let Pickles into the bathroom when she was taking a shower this morning. The nerve.

Her human left with a curt goodbye, a reminder to behave (which sounded like weird meows to Pickles), and a slam of the front door. Pickles was left on her own. Since setting the goal of getting into the cabinet, she had adjusted her daily schedule. There was less napping and sun patch time and more staring at the cabinet door time. She had made no progress in opening the door; every time she got her paw under the door it wouldn’t budge. Something was keeping her from getting the edge she needed.

As Pickles entered the bathroom, she was prepared for another day of staring and no progress towards her goal. She was surprised when she saw that the left side cabinet door was slightly open. Open enough for Pickles to get in. Her human must have left the door open! Pickles didn’t know what to do with herself. She had been dreaming of this moment for weeks and it was finally coming true. Pickles took a moment to savor this small victory. She wasn’t sure what was on the other side of the door but she was finally going to find out.

With tentative steps, Pickles walked towards the open cabinet door. She could see that it was dark behind the door but had no fear; she had excellent eyesight in the dark. She approached the door slowly and with cautious excitement. She didn’t want to accidentally hit the door and close it. It might never open again.

Pickles pawed at the door and got it opened enough to slide into the cabinet. She had always been a lean cat and her petite size helped with squeezing into tight places. The door closed behind her with a soft click. Pickles was in the cabinet! She had made it!

And now she was in total darkness.

Cats have better nocturnal vision than humans but can’t see perfectly in total darkness. Pickles sat very still for a few minutes to let her eyes adjust to the abrupt change in light. She hadn’t anticipated the darkness. She wasn’t really sure what she had anticipated. Her eyes adjusted somewhat and she started to sniff around. There was also a funny smell; it reminded Pickles of those times when her human would tell her to get off the off the bathroom counter and then she’d wipe something on it. The counter was always slippery and smelled weird. Pickles assumed it was clean but all it really meant was that she had to roll around on it some more to mark it as hers. Being a cat was so much work. 

That was the smell in the cabinet. Pickles didn’t like it. The smell was ruining her under the cabinet adventure. No, she was not going to let that stupid smell ruin this. Pickles turned around and started sniffing the bottles and boxes. She found a plastic box and rubbed her face on the edge. She knocked some bottles over. That was all there was. Pickles had expected more and somewhere soft to nap. Pickles was disappointed. All that planning had led to this - a horrible smell and nothing to do. She couldn't believer her bad luck.

She walked back to the door and tried to get out. Whatever had kept her out for so long was now keeping her in. The door wouldn’t open; it would just pretend like it was going to open and then close again. She pushed on the door a few more times. She tried to get her paw underneath to keep the door open. None of it worked. She didn’t know what to do.

Pickles resigned herself to her fate. She would have to stay in here forever. She would never see her human again or cuddle on the couch. The birds would take over the ledge due to the lack of patrol. Her sun patch would fade into a mere shadow of itself. Her penguin toy, her most favorite toy, would be all alone. Pickles was trapped in the darkness with the smell of doom.

That evening

The first thing Amelia noticed when she came into the apartment was that Pickles didn’t run out to meet her. Amelia wasn’t entirely surprised; Pickles seemed to know that she was mad about the messes. The cat had been hiding a bit more since Amelia had last scolded her. The second thing Amelia noticed was that there were no messes today. Nothing had been pushed off a table. There were no bottles on the floor in the bathroom. One less thing she would have to clean up this evening.

Amelia went into the kitchen to fix dinner for Pickles and start on her own. Normally, the cat ran into kitchen the second a can of cat food was opened. But no Pickles. Amelia called out to the cat. No meows or anything. She grabbed the treat box from the top of the refrigerator; shaking the box was Amelia’s go-to way to get the cat out of her hiding place. She shook the box a few times. Still no Pickles.

“Pickles, where are you?” Amelia started looking in all of Pickles’s regular hiding places. She wasn’t under the bed or on top of the cable box. She wasn’t on top of the refrigerator or the cabinets in the kitchen. She couldn’t get into the cabinets under the kitchen sink and the door to the hallway closet wasn’t open. Amelia checked her bedroom closet next; no Pickles. There was no way the cat could have gotten out of the apartment. She had been perched on the window sill when Amelia left for work. No one had come into the apartment. There was no where else for her to go.

There had to be somewhere she hadn’t considered. The cabinets all had safety latches on them so they were secure. Pickles couldn’t have moved the board covering the hole between the kitchen cabinet walls. Just to be sure, Amelia climbed up on the counter to check. No Pickles. Panic was setting in. She sat quietly for a few minutes. Where else could Pickles be? Amelia ran through her mental list of all the places that Pickles could be.

The reality was that Pickles was here somewhere. She had to be. Amelia figured that if she gave the cat some time she would come out on her own especially if she got hungry. Amelia calmed herself down and went back to the kitchen to start making dinner. The cat was here she was just being a cat.

Under the cabinet
Pickles heard her human come home. She had spent the entire day laying in the corner of the dark, smelly cabinet. Occasionally, she would try to get out. Every time she failed. She heard her human calling her. She mustered her loudest meow but it sounded like a whisper. She tried a few times but her human clearly didn’t hear her.

She was starting to panic again. What if her human never found her? What if she really had to stay here forever?

No, she was going to get out of this. She was an industrious cat and was going figure a way out.

A little later
Normally when she cooked or baked, Amelia listened to music. Since she still hadn’t figured out where Pickles was, she kept the music off in case her little cat made noise and then she would be able to find where the cat was hiding. She was in the middle of chopping vegetables when she heard a whispered meow.

She put down her knife and dried her hands. Where was the meow coming from? She started in the living room listening, checking places as she went. She checked the cabinet in the entertainment center. She looked under the couch. She looked under the bed. She even opened the dresser drawers thinking the cat could have somehow wiggled in. She looked in her closet again. No Pickles. That brought her to the bathroom. As she got closer to the bathroom, the meows grew louder. The only place Pickles could be was under the cabinets. How could she have gotten under the cabinets?

Amelia opened the cabinet door and out ran Pickles. The cat weaved around her legs and meowed loudly. Amelia picked up the cat, “How did you get into the cabinet? Those latches were supposed to keep you out of the cabinets.” Had she left the door open this morning? She had been distracted this morning so it was possible she didn’t notice the latch didn’t catch. So it was her fault Pickles was missing. She would have to do a better job ensuring they were safely closed.

Pickles wiggled out of her human’s arms and made her way to her food. She was starving and ate everything in her bowl (a first for Pickles as she was of the “I ate five pieces now I have no food” school of eating). Her human returned to making her own dinner. Pickles stayed close by and avoided making eye contact with the bathroom cabinet. She felt that it was staring at her and laughing. The great adventure she had envisioned had been nothing but darkness and boredom. And fear. She had really believed that she would have to stay there forever with the smells and no soft things to lay on. It had been torture.

Amelia finished dinner and decided to start re-watching season five of Gilmore Girls. Pickles settled on her lap for a little while. The cat wanted lots of attention tonight. Amelia had a hard time being mad at Pickles; she was so freaking cute. The cat had avoided the bathroom since being let out, only darting in once to use her litter box. Amelia realized that today’s mishap had taught Pickles a lesson. Or she hoped it had taught Pickles a lesson. She was a cat and Amelia realized a long time ago that cats did whatever they pleased even if it was something that was dangerous. So maybe Pickles would try again; Amelia was hopeful that she would avoid the cabinets forever.

As episode two began, Pickles moved from her human’s lap to her favorite pillow on the couch. She was exhausted; she hadn’t really gotten a full 18 hours of sleep today. It had been too stressful to really nap under the sink. She flumped onto the pillow and fell into a deep sleep.

She couldn’t help herself when it came to taking pictures of Pickles. The cat was contorted into a weird sleeping position and looked adorable so Amelia snapped a picture and posted it on several of her social media accounts. The caption read: “A well deserved nap after facing the cabinet of doom. #adventuresofpicklesthecat”

The next morning
Pickles was on patrol. There were three birds outside and they kept landing on her window sill like they owned the place. Pickles couldn’t do much to them from inside but she kept an eye on them and occasionally batted at the window to make them fly away. They knew who was boss of this window. She planned to patrol for a little while longer and then it was sun patch time. Pickles loved a regimented schedule.

Her human was home today. Earlier she had brought out that horrible monster that made loud noises as it rolled across the carpets. Pickles stayed under the bed until it was done. She hated that thing. She ended her patrol and settled into her sun patch and reflected on the events of the previous day. By chance she had gotten into the one place she was not allowed to go and it had been a major disappointment. Now Pickles understood why her human shooed her away and kept those cabinets locked tight. Nothing good happened in the cabinets under the sink. She had to concede that maybe her human was right about this. She would try to be a good cat and stay out of trouble for awhile.

The thought quickly left her mind when she glanced up and realized something. She had never been on top of the very high bookcase in the living room. What would the world look like from such heights? How would she get to the top? There were many possibilities for climbing and jumping from other places in the room. She didn’t even consider how she would get back down; that was unimportant. Pickles began plotting her ascent to the top and her next adventure.

Cats never learn.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This movie has everything

We live in a world where we have become used to the idea that our favorite fictional characters can be killed without warning and for no reason but that the creators of these characters seem to enjoy the agony that these deaths cause across the fandoms. I have still not come to terms with Buffy's mom's death and half expected a character to actually die in the film version of Much Ado About Nothing. That's how Joss Whedon rolls. Now that I've started watching Game of Thrones, I have decided not to care about any character. That way, I can't be sad when they die.

It's with this idea in mind that I began my first full viewing of the 1996 classic Independence Day in probably five years. I usually come in somewhere in the middle whenever it's on TBS for the four hundredth time during the month of July. The late 90s where an excellent time for action movies especially if you liked volcanoes, asteroids, and plots that only had one or two differences. Independence Day was unique-ish at least at the time. The movie is patriotic without being nationalistic and uplifting while still having some sad moments. The pace is quick so while you like the characters and empathize with them, you don't get attached. You expect that some of them are not going to make it and it's okay. When aliens are attempting to exterminate the human race causalities can't be avoided.

This movie has everything: explosions, science, aliens, Harry Connick, Jr., the White House, comedy, tacky dolphin jewelry, Robert Loggia, cute kids, Data from Next Generation. Everything.

So with a week left until Independence Day, toast some marshmallows and make a s'more or two and enjoy the most patriotic movie of the 1990s Independence Day.
  1. I don't know the last time I watched the movie from the beginning. I did not remember that the movie started on the moon. The entire invasion is obviously retribution for astronauts walking on the moon. Thanks Neil Armstrong.
  2. Excellent use of R.E.M's "It's the End of the World As We Know It". Do you remember when it was a badge of coolness to actually know all of the lyrics?
  3. Literally everyone is in this movie: the guy who plays the museum director in The Mummy (Erick Avari), Jim Piddock (from several Christopher Guest movies), the older daughter from Mrs. Doubtfire, the cute guy from Detroit Rock City oh and Will Smith, Robert Loggia, Bill Pullman, Mae Whitman, and Jeff Goldblum. And Harvey Fierstein.
  4. Bill Pullman is the President! I think we should all dream hard for a world where this is the truth. Lone Starr should be President.
  5. "Daddy let me watch Letterman." "Traitor." Mae Whitman is so adorable as the first child. 
  6. I've never reconciled the fact that the women in the film are pretty stereotypical: the graceful, smart First Lady, the uptight communications director, and the stripper with a heart of gold. Couldn't we have done a little better?
  7. If you didn't have a crush on Jeff Goldblum when this movie came out, you did after you saw it. He's nerdy and funny and still in love with his wife who happens to be the President's communications director. And he's nice to his dad and is an excellent chess player. Of course he also saves the day. No big thing.
  8. OMG Harvey Fierstein is in this movie! I forgot he was in this movie. We're only fifteen minutes in and if the movie ended right now, it would be worth it.
  9. Randy Quaid has built a career on playing idiots and this movie doesn't disappoint in that department (at least in the beginning). I like his character's story arc and his family. More on his alien abduction later on.
  10. I like the special effects in this movie. They're classic and wonderful and not overwhelming even when the monuments and significant American symbols are being destroyed.
  11. Mae Whitman doesn't actually cry in this movie but I feel like this movie was another great place for her to hone her crying skills. Don't believe me? Check out this Buzzfeed article on her epic cries.
  12. The pacing of this movie is one of my favorite parts of the experience. The run time clocks at 2:25 and the aliens make their first move 24 minutes into the movie. You'd think that you'd get bored but you don't the movie moves between the connected stories at an excellent pace and actually moves. I have been to more movies in the last 3 years that should be a good 45 minutes shorter than they are. We could learn a lot from ID.
  13. We finally meet our two doomed characters: the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) and Harry Connick, Jr.. You know that the First Lady is doomed in her delivery of the line "I love you" when the President tells her to come back home. Something bad is going to happen to her and it's okay. Not okay that she's doomed but okay because you have time to process that it will happen. Same for HCJ: he's comic relief that might interfere with Will Smith's mugging so he has to go. He does deliver one of my favorite lines, "You're never gonna get to fly on the space shuttle if you marry a stripper."
  14. Fun fact: the White House interior scenes were filmed on the set that was built for The American President. This is my dad's favorite movie (it's his You've Got Mail). It was also used for Mars Attacks!
  15. "You punched the President?" I love Judd Hirsch in this movie too. Literally, everyone is in this movie.
  16. If you're trying to disaster plan for alien invasions, move to Des Moines. L.A., New York, and DC will go first so move to Iowa. 
  17. Jasmine's dog is awesome. 
  18. So let's discuss Will Smith: this is the only Will Smith movie that I enjoy him in. He's one of those actors who annoys me because he has little to no range and yet is in every movie (or at least was in every movie). Ali and Six Degrees of Separation were pleasant surprises but everything else is terrible. He's smug and mugs the entire time. At least in this movie he plays a pilot so I expect the smugness. Like Tom Cruise, I never willingly go see Will Smith movies. I only saw the first Men in Black because I adore Tommy Lee Jones. I do enjoy him in this movie especially the scene where he's dragging the alien through the desert and talking to it. And his "Welcome to Earth" before punching the alien. Beyond that, Will Smith in a movie makes me irrational. I want to punch him in the face because than he would stop being so freaking smug.
  19. Jasmine (the amazing Vivica A. Fox) drives a huge truck through destroyed L.A. and finds the First Lady. Of course, Jasmine voted for the other guy.
  20. Y'all it's Adam Baldwin. This movie should have 100% more Adam Baldwin. Basically, there should be a movie within a movie just about Adam Baldwin's character. I would totally watch that. And never be bored.
  21. And then Data, I mean, Brent Spiner, appears as the creepiest scientist who is not really a bad guy. He's just lived at Area 51 (yes that Area 51) forever and is really into aliens. Of course, this isn't going to end well. Shady.
  22. Fun fact: the US military was originally on board to provide technical advisement on the film UNTIL it was revealed that part of the plot involved Area 51.
  23. "You just have to get through their technology." So basically getting to the actual alien is a lot like helping one of my clients navigate the internet?
  24. Helpful tip: Don't dissect an alien if you don't know if it's dead or not. Bad things will happen.
  25. You know what this movie could use? Harvey Keitel. I don't know what he'd do in this movie but I feel like he'd be really awesome in it. 
  26. The President tries to convince the alien that peace is the answer. The alien declines. Obviously the only answer is to have Adam Baldwin kill it.
  27. I like the four love stories in the movie: Connie and David, Jasmine and Will Smith, the President and First Lady, and Randy Quaid (Russell) and his family. They all make sense.
  28. I find it incredibly amusing that Houston is where they decide to launch a nuclear attack against the aliens. Houston - just let that sink in for a minute.
  29. Have I mentioned how much I love Jeff Goldblum in this movie? He figures out how to give the mothership a "cold" and saves the day again (this is the second time so far). Connie's comment, "Now he gets ambitious" is also perfect. 
  30. This is the greatest speech of all time:

31. And then he suits up and joins the other pilots on their mission. Because he's a former combat pilot and the best president ever.
32. "I picked a hell of day to quit drinking." Russell - the unexpected hero of this movie. Again another great story element to this movie. I like everyone. Except the aliens.
33. Did I mention that they use morse code as a way to communicate with armies around the world? Take that aliens wiping our our technology. We've got morse code.
34. "Didn't I promise you fireworks?" Will Smith ends it for us with a mildly smug comment while we watch alien ships burn. Thanks Will Smith. Just keep smoking that cigar.

And that's Jenga. (Bonus points if you get that movie reference.) There you have it - one of my favorite movies from 1996. I was still in high school and did not yet feel like suspending disbelief while watching movies was for the weak. If you just can't help yourself and need to question the believability of this movie, check out this video (courtesy of Jessica).

Poster image
Gratuitous Adam Baldwin photo

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom, Part I

“Goodbye Pickles. Have a nice day.” The door closed and Pickles could hear the key turn in the lock. Her human was gone. She finally had the apartment to herself.

Pickles knew that she should probably be sad that her human made the choice to leave her alone for periods of eight to nine hours a day. She didn’t know where her human went; she assumed it was someplace un-fun and without cats. Her human probably didn’t get to nap or lay in the sun or any of the other fun things that Pickles got to do all day.

But Pickles didn’t really feel sad. When her human left Pickles was left to do all the things she wasn't normally allowed. She was able to jump on counters that always got her in trouble. She could go into the closet in the hallway and knock towels and pillows down and then lay on them (sliding doors were super easy to open). Or if she was really up for adventure, she could scale the refrigerator and the cabinets above the refrigerator. Sometimes Pickles liked to do that late in the day when she suspected her human would soon return. When she did, Pickles would jump down and her human would scream a little bit. Pickles liked a good scare.

There was one place in the apartment that Pickles wanted to go beyond all others - the cabinet in the bathroom. Every time she tried to get into this particular cabinet, her human shooed her away or stopped her before she could get the door open. Even when her human left, Pickles was never able to get the door open enough to get in. She could make a lot of noise trying it but never seemed to get the door to open; it was just too heavy. In recent days, she hadn’t been able to even open the door a little bit. Something had changed and she couldn’t figure it out. She couldn’t make the door bang late at night or early in the morning. She had to resort to pawing her human in the face to get any attention. Pickles was determined to figure out this mystery and pursue her dream of sleeping under the sink.

Pickles began her morning routine: basking in the sun, patrolling, napping, a snack, and more patrolling and napping. She was, like her human, a stickler for a plan and a schedule. She began with basking in the sun in the living room by the chair. She swished her tail a bit, rolled around, and decided she was bored. The curtains were open so she jumped on the window sill to patrol for a bit. Her human didn’t know just how much time Pickles spent patrolling their home. She couldn’t let the birds think they could just land on the ledge and stay there. This was her window. It was like that time with the mice; they didn’t belong in her house. She had to teach them a lesson. It was her job.

There were no birds today. Pickles was disappointed that her patrol was so short but there was no sense wasting time staring (although she considered herself an exceptional starer - it creeped out the other humans that visited). She had other tasks to complete today.

The bathroom cabinet was calling. Pickles had to figure out how to get in.

Later that afternoon
The key jangled in the lock. Amelia was finally home after a long day at work. Two last minute student interviews had thrown off her day so she was late coming home. She was looking forward to relaxing on the couch with a book and a glass of wine. She should go to the gym but that could wait until tomorrow.

She finally got the door open. Pickles sauntered towards her. Amelia liked to think that it was because the cat missed her during the day but knew that her affection was more than likely related to food. She could never quite figure out where Pickles came from when she ran to the door. Amelia picked up her cat and gave her a hug. For once, Pickles didn’t try to squirm and get away.

“How was your day? Did you do anything fun?” Amelia had long ago stopped feeling silly about talking to Pickles. Everyone talked to their pets; everyone should admit it. Pickles meowed at her and purred loudly. She was happy to see her human. She liked this lady except for the whole "not allowed in the cabinet" rule, Pickles had a nice human who took excellent care of her. Amelia walked into the kitchen and got Pickles her dinner. The cat weaved around her legs and meowed some more.

“Well aren’t you chatty today?” Amelia often wondered if Pickles needed a friend. Maybe she was lonely. She never made the move to get another cat; she didn’t want to be perceived as a cat lady. More importantly, she wasn’t convinced that Pickles would actually like another animal in the house. She seemed like a loner cat and Amelia respected that.

Amelia moved through the apartment, going through her mail, kicking off her shoes. She needed to straighten the apartment but decided to wait until the weekend. She walked into her bedroom to change (just because she wasn’t going to the gym didn’t mean she couldn’t change into super comfy yoga pants) and stopped abruptly. Amelia was a bit of neat freak. She always made her bed and rarely left things out so she was a bit surprised at the disarray she now faced. Books had been pushed off the nightstand, her jewelry box was spilled on the floor, and as she looked through her walk through closet into the bathroom, she could see a trail of cotton balls and several bottles of moisturizer and soap on the floor.

“Pickles!? What did you do?” She was used to the cat pushing things off tables and getting into plastic bags but rarely did Pickles make such a mess. Amelia began straightening up the rooms. She didn’t see Pickles and figured the cat was hiding from her and would only come out only when Amelia went to bed. At least she hadn’t gotten under the sink. The safety latches she put on the cabinets seemed to be working. Pickles was so curious about that cabinet but Amelia didn’t want her to get into any of the cleaning products.

Pickles peeked around the bedroom door. She knew she was in trouble but didn’t care. Her human was keeping her out of the bathroom cabinet. That was totally unfair and Pickles was making her feelings known. She would continue to do this until she was allowed in. 

Part II of "Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom" will appear next week. Enjoy the first Short Story Hour before next week.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Gibbs probably doesn't feed birds

The blue jay circled above the house. He could see the bird feeders in the backyard and a few birds fluttering around. He was unsure if this space was safe or if he should move along on down the line. Then he spotted it - the symbol that let him know that all was safe and good. He landed on the edge of deck and then made his way to the food. It was a good place and he knew he would return.

There are three things you should know about my dad:
  1. He likes to watch NCIS reruns on USA (even if he has seen the episode multiple times)
  2. He maintains three bird feeders in his backyard, including one for hummingbirds
  3. He has a high tolerance for the ridiculous and the silly which serves him well in our family
My parents really enjoy the birds that seem to flock to their backyard. It's probably the one thing that they truly like about their house and where they live. The bird feeders are on the back deck and you can watch the birds from the kitchen table. I imagine it's a nice way to start your day - a little coffee or tea, some cereal, and the baby woodpecker and it's mama. Nature - that's what they get for living out in "the country." My mother likes spring best (I think) since all the baby birds are around and it's fun to watch them figure out how to fly. My father seems to enjoy identifying the birds and even has a bird book (although I don't know that he uses it all that often).

Here's the thing - I think that my parents, particularly my father, are helping to create an entire generation of lazy birds. What happens when my parents move? Will instinct take back over and the birds will remember how to forage and find food on their own? Will the squirrels remember how to store food for the winter? What will happen? My dad usually laughs at this, ignores my comments, and moves onto another conversation. He knows that they're birds and they'll figure it out. No need to worry. Cue "The Circle of Life."

Hobo symbols
It's a common conversation I have with my dad whenever I visit. One day, a few years ago, I was watching a re-run of Criminal Minds and the episode's plot had to do with a killer that was murdering people along a train line. Dr. Reid (it may not have been him but I think he's adorable so I'm going to pretend that it's him) discovered some marks along the tracks. He tells whichever other agent is with him about how hobos used to use symbols to communicate with other hobos about the area. They might share if there was a kindhearted woman (with a cat of course) or if the police were a problem. Anyway, the killer was doing something similar along the train line and killing people. I may be off on the plot but the second Dr. Reid started talking about the hobo trail and the symbols, I figured out what was going on at my parents' house.

Their house is a stop on the hobo bird trail.

I'm convinced that the birds have figured out some version of the hobo symbols and fly around the country making the marks on houses and other buildings or whatever to let other birds know what's up. Other birds flock to the house and enjoy the food and then they leave a mark for birds that come after them. I'm not entirely sure what the symbols look like but I'm convinced that my parents' house has every single one of the positive symbols that are available. Squirrels apparently know about it too; there's one there now and he's enormous. If the hawk is still around, it will get him at some point because he won't be able to run away.

So I told my dad that I thought his house was a stop on the hobo bird trail. Because my father is used to the ridiculous things that I say and think up, he didn't really react at first. He thought about it for a few minutes and then asked me a bunch of questions about how I had come to this conclusion. I told him about the Criminal Minds episode and he said, "I watch NCIS." I love that my father completely ignored the ridiculousness of what I was saying and focused instead on my choice of television show. He seemed okay with the idea that he was a stop on the hobo bird trail AND that a hobo bird trail even exists. In fact, I think he was sort of proud of the idea that he's helping the birds.

Some takeaways from this experience:
  1. I haven't watched Criminal Minds since this conversation. Now I watch reruns of NCIS but only reruns on USA. I don't keep up with the current season.
  2. For all you dads or soon to be dads out there: develop the ability to accept the weirdness of your children. I appreciate that my dad doesn't judge any of the weird things my brother and I have come up with over the years and on occasion, he joins in.
  3. There is a hobo bird trail. If you want to be a stop on it, make sure to always stock the bird feeder and be kind to the squirrels that figure out the game. 
  4. Learn something new everyday even if it comes from an unusual source. I wouldn't know about hobo symbols without Criminal Minds. I also cannot leave the shower curtain closed when I leave the house because I'm concerned that Tim Curry's serial killer character will be waiting there when I come home. Thanks Criminal Minds.
Happy Father's Day Dad! Enjoy the birds and continue to cement your place as a prime stop on the hobo bird trail. Maybe you should add a bird bath. I'm sure they'd enjoy the new amenity.

Coming soon to the Island: More summer themed Lazy Movie Weekends (including one on my favorite John Waters movies), Pickles the cat will get into more trouble in an adventure about the end of the world, and I'll visit an amusement park for the first time in 10 years.

 Hobo symbols