Tuesday, December 23, 2008

seasonal hair fare

A Christmas Story (1983) seems to have a secure place as a "holiday classic" these days, and is the most recently-made addition to the Holiday Classic Movie Pantheon. Maybe Elf (which I still haven't watched because of my contempt for Will Ferrell, even though it has the godlike Bob Nehwart in it) or one of those Tim Allen holiday movies or even the creepy "they have no souls!" animation of The Polar Express will get there someday, who knows?

(By the way, that's assuming that The Nightmare Before Christmas - one of only two Tim Burton films that are great all the way through - and Bad Santa will remain more "cult Christmas" than "TNT 24/7 Christmas Day repeat marathon" in their level of mainstream acceptability. We're talking society's picks when I'm talking "pantheon," not my personal choices.)

I used to dislike A Christmas Story. It didn't strike me as funny the first few times I encountered it in the '80s. My aunt and uncle adored it, I think in large part because its near-perfect recreation of the 1940s reminded them a lot of their own childhoods in the 1950s. But other than the Leg Lamp (and yes, I know there are A Christmas Story-branded Leg Lamps now - we just don't have a place for one!) and how the "you're gonna shoot your eye out!" thing ends up, it was pretty laugh-free for me at the time.

Nowadays, while I don't think I'll ever list A Christmas Story as a favorite, the repeat viewings have had their effect, and the movie's grown on me. I certainly laugh more at it now than I used to, but the thing I appreciate most about the movie is its attention to 1940s period detail.

However, there is absolutely one thing about A Christmas Story that, every time it comes into the frame, takes me right out of the story:

The mom's hair.

I mean, look at this!

Ladies and gentlemen, that's not 1940s hair. That's a vintage 1983 poodle 'do from Hair Affair at the Mercer Mall. Could no one on this film convince Melinda Dillon (the actress playing the mom) to succumb to a period hairstyle? If she was so attached to that crazy frizzy thing (which I hate hate hated on women 'n' girls at the time, much less now), couldn't she have put on a wig? And unless I missed the Melinda Dillon Ascendancy of the early '80s, she wasn't a big enough star, then or ever, to have demanded "no one touches my hair!" and gotten away with it. Maybe she was boffing the director, I dunno.

Hairstyles are usually the downfall of period pieces. Of course, there are plenty of other clues to when a period piece was filmed, most often in the cinematography / lighting / color processing, but usually it's someone running around 33 CE Rome or King Arthur's court or Studio 54 c. 1977 with Anachronism Hair, like they just pulled them off the street, threw chainmail or a leisure suit on them, and called it a day.

So yeah, every time Ralphie's Mom is in the frame, it totally undoes the decor, the sweaters, Darren McGavin's irascible Dad (surely an ancestor of That '70s Show's Red Foreman), and hours and hours of painstaking research, set decoration, and costuming, all because that woman had to keep her damn poodle hair.

I usually am a purist when it comes to being against ex post facto alterations of movies and TV shows. No colorization, no Apocalypse Now Redux bloating , no George Lucas-style reedits. But if I could, I would digitally alter this film to put an actual 1940s hairstyle on this woman.

By the way, in Googling up the photo for this piece, I discovered that many, many men developed pre-adolescent crushes on Ralphie's Mom, and still think she's totally MILFy. Who knew? For me, the hair by itself trumps any other virtues of Melinda Dillon's, at least in this film. But then again, I was 16 when this movie came out, so I was spending my time pining over very real girls at school rather than getting dewy-eyed over Ralphie's Mom. Plus my own pre-adolescent crush on a TV or movie mom was Elizabeth Montgomery, and what poodle-haired latecomer could compete with that?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

total eclipse of the heroes

So I'm slowly catching up on this season of Heroes, via the good ol' TiVo. While it's certainly a blogworthy idea to explain how I feel about the show (in general: first season good, second season bad, third season in between but more iffy than not), I just watched "Eclipse: Part 2," and this is what I have to say right this minute, while the thought is still pipin' hot:

In case you don't know anything about Heroes (not that there's anything wrong with that): On this show, there are a bunch of folks with superpowers. Not all the characters, but most.

In the two-part episode I finished watching tonight, these folks lose their respective superpowers during a solar eclipse.

Somehow, it doesn't occur to any of the show's characters - and their ranks include powerful leaders, off-the-charts scientific geniuses, mind readers, time travellers, super duper quasi-government agents, etc. - that once the eclipse is over, these superpowers might come back.

I mean, yeah, having everyone lose their powers for a few hours opened up lots of possible character development and interesting plot twists (interesting by the standards of last season and this one, anyway).

But it did this totally at the expense of suspense of disbelief. None of these people thought "hey, when the eclipse is over, all those powers might come back"? C'mon. I think even this episode's Comic Book Guys (Breckin Meyer and Seth Green in cameo appearances) would know that was the Worst. Idea. Ever.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

police on my back

I was supposed to have today off but got asked to work this evening. I need the money, so I said "yes."

My start time was 6 PM, so I left the house at 5:30 PM, which in this here northern hemisphere at this time of year means that it's dark already.

I was almost to my workplace - about a mile from it - and traveling in the left-hand lane on my side when a cop pulled behind me.

The scene:
  • I'm on Gallatin Road, a city street.
  • There are two lanes of traffic on either side of the street.
  • There is a turn lane in the middle of the street.
The police cruiser then moved closer to me and turned on the ol' flashing lights. It didn't look like the cop was trying to pull me over, and rush hour traffic meant I was in no danger of speeding, so I concluded that he had just gotten a call and wanted to pass me. Since I had traffic in the lane on my right, I simply slowed down. The turn lane to our left was completely clear, so he could have easily gone into that lane to get around me.

Instead, he pulled closer and stayed behind me. Even though he didn't have his siren on, I then figured "well, he's pulling me over." I slowed down more and he still didn't pass me. I tried to look at the cop to see if he was signaling me, but since it was dark outside, I couldn't tell.

So, still thinking I'm being pulled over, I put on my right turn signal, and cut through the lane of traffic to my right, and then on to the shoulder. In the dark. In rush hour. Because a cop has on his flashing lights and is all up in my tailpipe and seems to want me to pull over.

And the cop didn't follow me. He stayed in the lane we were in, turned off his flashing lights, and went on up Gallatin Road with no sense of alacrity whatsoever.

To which I can only say: huh?

Friday, December 12, 2008

the ubiquity of iced tea

On Thanksgiving Day, we had the traditional midday dinner at my wife's aunt's place. It's one of those meals where there's enough attendees and little enough space around the table that once you sit down, you're pretty much locked in place until the plates are cleared in advance of dessert.

After we had loaded up our plates and sat down to begin mass consumption, two beverage choices were passed around the table:
  • unsweet iced tea
  • sweet iced tea
I don't like iced tea, but I didn't want to make a fuss, and I'm not a person who needs to drink while eating. And somewhat later in the meal, someone noticed that I hadn't chosen a beverage and at that point, I did receive liquid sustenance (in the form of good ol' H2O).

My point in bringing up this example is that in my adult life, I have found myself at dozens of meals - at workplaces, with significant-other families, at daytime/working-hours parties - where not only was iced tea the only beverage option offered, it didn't even seem to occur to the organizers that some poor miscreant might not want iced tea.

I've tried iced tea plenty. I'm not much for any kind of tea, but I imagine my aversion to hot tea has to do with my lifelong bafflement at how to consume hot beverages (grist for another blog post, that).

But iced tea... oh yeah, I've tried it. As a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, as a quadrigenarian, you name it. And I've never liked it.

Not sweet or unsweet, lemon or no lemon, never, no way. To me, it's like someone put a stick in some water and called it a beverage. It's work for me to drink, and I can't get down even half a glass. The only variant that I've been able to drink a glassful of in one sitting is "fruit tea," and that's grudgingly, and with enough fruit content that it may not quite be tea anymore.

We didn't drink any kind of tea in the house I grew up in, so this beverage was foreign to my own upbringing in West Virginia. But my first wife grew up 15 miles from where I did, and she and her family quaffed iced tea like it was going out of style. In fact, during the nineteen years we were together, her mother never remembered that I didn't like iced tea, resulting in many unpleasant moments for me at meals when I hadn't noticed that I'd been served tea. I'd pick up the glass, and take a big swallow of what I expected to be Coke or Pepsi or at least Big K... and bleagh! mouthful of TEA!

One more example: in the late '90s, I organized and implemented conversion training in three cities for the employees of a bank that my then-employer had bought. In Jackson, MS, I left the catering arrangements to my local counterpart. As I'm sure everyone reading this has already guessed, at every meal during these training sessions - which I'm thinking was ten meals during the course of that week - the only beverages offered were sweet tea and unsweet tea. By the second day, I tried to make sure that I either brought in a couple of drinks for myself or had enough change for the vending machines at the training center. However, I was the only person out of dozens at these sessions that I saw use the machines. Everyone else blissfully quaffed their iced tea.

But I want to know... is it just some weird southern / Appalachian thing to offer only iced tea, and to assume that everyone loves iced tea? Or is it all iced tea all the time everywhere?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

ready for the crush

Recently, I began playing U2's Achtung, Baby (one of my favorite album titles) for the first time in a lonnnng time. Maybe for the first time in more than ten years, even though I like the album very much.

And during the first of these recent listens, I realized that I'd been slightly misquoting "Zoo Station" for a lonnnng time.

In discussing the song, I'd quote the lyrics as

ready to let go of the steering wheel
i'm ready
ready for what's next

All of those lyrics actually appear in the song, so I'm not just making it up out of whole cloth, or having a mondegren moment.

But "ready for what's next" comes early on, and far away from "ready to let go of the steering wheel." The line that actually comes after "ready to let go of the steering wheel" isn't "ready for what's next," but "ready for the crush."

Nevertheless, the way I (mis)remembered it is important, because it says what's important to me about the song and how the song relates to my life. Over the years, my memory had simply pared it down to the thesis.

I've made a lot of changes over the last three or four years. While I had a modicum of happiness where I was before, it was only a modicum. I wasn't really happy. There was always something wrong.

Nowadays, things are different. Instead of resigning myself, I've made an effort. I've taken a lot of chances, at least by my standards. Even when events didn't turn out how I might have liked, I've gained from every experience. I've found out that I can actually get the things I really want. I've finally lived.

I'm not sure if I let go of the steering wheel or if I finally took hold of it. Somehow, I think I did both.

And I am far, far happier for it.

Don't get me wrong, my life isn't without challenges. But now, when I face those challenges, there's a tranquility at the eye of the storm because I feel better about myself and my life.

Both sets of lyrics turn out to be true.

I was finally ready for what's next.

I am ready for the crush.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

hatful of grumble

McGavock Pike, December 2nd, 2008

Since 'tis the season to be charitable, we're assuming that the e's completely sold out on the day after Thanksgiving.